Romancing the Muse

Manuscript News

I tried a fun little exercise this last week. I had just tapped out on my note card phase (simply put: I write every single scene I can possibly think of on a note card, even if it might never make it into the MS; I do it largely to generate new ideas) and was feeling pretty good about what I had come up with. I had about three times as many note cards as I produced for Border Towns and several plot threads I wanted to follow. But, with so many ideas, I worried about losing track of the important beats I wanted to hit. 

So I made a list for myself of all the plots and subplots that I had come up with. Most were character relationships, others could be condensed. When I was happy with my list I went back to my scene cards and on the backs I wrote down each plot it contributed to. This helped me figure out which scenes were doing work, and which ones were just fluff.

The next step was to organize the cards according to the plot(s) they were apart of (since most of them have the potential to forward along more than one, I repeated this step for each plot). Then I examined the story lines closely to see if they all had coherent beginnings, middles, and ends. In this way I was able to identify which plots should either be scrubbed entirely, or at least beefed up, and which ones were carrying the novel.

I have no idea if this exercise will help me write a better novel in November, but it really helped me figure some things out about my story that, until then, were kind of foggy before.


The Weekly Struggle

So, there I was at my day job, doing one of those mindless repetitive tasks, listening to Print Run, and thinking about my upcoming NaNo project, when–

plot twist

Here is the entire plot and all the characters for a contemporary romance novel, my brain whispered lovingly, as if it was handing me a great gift.

But me, I said to meI write fantasy. I don’t even read romance, I wouldn’t know the first thing about how to write it.

Tooooo damnnnnn badddddd, my brain replied, fading into the distance.

And here we are.

Truthfully, this didn’t really come out of nowhere. I had written about 30k of a romance story about six years ago and recently unearthed it to give myself a shot in the arm, desperate for anything to get myself back into a creative state of mind. Normally I shy away from anything I’ve written in the past, but this particular story I was quite proud of at the time. It (for the most part) held up after all these years. The hook, I feel, is solid and the characters have depth and nuance, and feel real. The premise might be a little cheesy, but not unrealistic. It needs some work, of course, but it wouldn’t take too much effort to whip it into a complete first draft.

Still, I have reservations. As I mentioned, I really don’t know much about the genre. Now and again I try to get into it, but I struggle to maintain interest. Further, and pursuant to last week’s post, what would be the point of writing a one-off romance novel? Romance is not a genre I feel compelled to pursue beyond this one idea, though, I admit, I didn’t feel compelled to pursue it before the idea either, and yet…

Well, what’s the harm, right?

So, I’m going to write it. It might be terrible, or it might be the best thing I ever write. It might be a distraction from my fantasy projects, or it might be a nice escape whenever I’m blocked or frustrated with them. It might just be a practice novel, or it might be what I pitch at next year’s DFWCon. I won’t know until I try.

Here’s to new adventures.


That’s all from me this week! Until next time, may your writing be plenty and your struggles be few!

Kerry Share

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Obsessed With Outlines

Manuscript News

I know, I know. I’m supposed to be taking a break from Border Towns in order to be fresh and ready for the meat of revisions. But, what can I say? I feel a little nervous about the tight timeline I put myself on this year and I’m afraid if I lollygag in my preparations for draft two then I won’t get it done in time.

So, suffice it to say, I’m not drafting. I’m really not. But, I’m doing everything I can to stay engaged with my story. I know this means that by the end of September I’ll probably feel ready to take this novel behind the shed and shoot it, but I’ll cross that event horizon if it ever comes.

What exactly am I doing? Well, read on…


The Weekly Struggle

Let’s talk outlining.

Nine months ago, I wasn’t sure where I fell on the plotting/pantsing spectrum. I even wrote a blog post ruminating on the subject. Now, one completed first draft later, I think it’s fairly safe to say that I fully identify as a plotter, and that is largely thanks to how much I truly enjoy the outlining phase.

I’m a freak, I know.

I had tremendous success with my pre-first draft outlines (yes, I said outlines with an s), though it didn’t always feel like success. The first outline came out to a very thin, rather pathetic sixty scenes. So, I started a new one. A second draft… of the outline. Sadly, outline #2 never actually got completed because I simply ran out of Preptober time. I was committed to starting NaNo with everyone else, and so when November 1st hit, I just got started. Outline #2 was on pace to be 85 scenes.

So, confession. One of the things I chafe at when reading discourse regarding pantsing vs. plotting, is the idea that plotting is too rigid and leaves no room for creative discovery. (For the record, I know that people who say this are usually only referring to themselves, but the anxiety monster in me internalizes it anyway.) But, for me, that was absolutely not the case.

I try to think of writing as a road trip of sorts, where the goal is to get from Point A to Point B. The outline is the map. It might show you the most efficient, direct route to complete your journey, but that is just one option among dozens of others. If you get detoured by construction (a character going rogue), or if you find an interesting landmark you want to visit that wasn’t on your path (a sudden plot idea you want to include), you still have you map to guide you back to the highway when you’re through.

For me, the outline was instrumental in unblocking me at one particular point during my first draft. In essence, late in the second act, my main character jumped the gun on a plot I had slated for the second and third books in the series. At first I just went with it, as I had in the past when things like this happened. However, afterwards I encountered some serious blockage. My characters were no longer cooperating, largely because they had to deal with this major bombshell that had just been dropped on them, while I was trying to usher along the main story plot.

After a great deal of fussing around, I went back to my outline and, with it, I was able to pin point the exact scene where I went wrong. Though I was initially hesitant to change anything, I eventually made the tough decision to strip out 2500 words and start fresh from the trouble spot.

It worked. I no longer felt blocked and was able to move along with my story until I eventually finished two weeks ago.

Which leads me back to this week’s activities.

I’ve been kind of at a loss as to how to tackle revision. I’ve never made it to a second draft before, and I don’t know what my process is or what will work. I’ve known for a while I want to do a fresh second draft, without the first draft sitting in front of my face to directly reference, but I also don’t want to go into it completely from memory either. While mulling it over on Twitter several weeks ago, I realized I could utilize my obsession with outlines once again. If I write up an outline based on the first draft, I can then do a second draft outline based on that, without getting caught up in the minutiae of the prose itself.

And that’s what I’m doing this week. I’m calling it my post-mortem outline. It’s given me an impetus to get through the necessary, if cringe inducing, task of re-reading the first draft, as well as help me form new ideas for what I want out of draft two. So while it might not be for everyone, it’s absolutely already been worth it for me.

Honestly, I can’t wait to get started on the second draft outline.

I know, I’m weird. But that’s okay.

weird


I know I said last week that this week’s post was going to be about Writing For Yourself, but I’M JUST SO PASSIONATE ABOUT OUTLINING YOU GUYS. Next week I’ll be back with a post previewing my very first writing conference. Actually, it’ll probably just be 800 words about how nervous I am. Until then, may your writing be plenty and your struggles be few!

Kerry Share

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Panic! At the NaNo

I’m back! Not that… anyone noticed I was gone, but I’m back! A mini-staycation from the day job was spent largely in bed or doing some much needed deep cleaning of the homestead. I did get some writing done, but blogging was not on my schedule. In the future I’ll try and announce programming interruptions before they happen, not after.

So, as of this writing, we are just ten short days away from the official start of NaNoWriMo, and I, for one, am freaking out.

Things were going so well.

I finished my first draft of my outline for this year’s project, Bordertowns, over a week ago. I knew it needed revisions, but I thought the extent of it would be trimming some fatty scenes, fattening up some thin scenes, and shaking others around so they fell in a more sensible place.

That was about ten days ago. I thought I had plenty of time.

tenor

I mentioned in an earlier post that I feared my plot was running a little thin, and that I hoped to thicken it with some supplemental story lines. However, when my outline reached sixty scenes, exactly my target, I thought perhaps I was on pace after all.

Well, revising my outline has brought me to the painful realization that the scene count doesn’t matter as much when the content of those scenes is dreadfully boring. There’s really no other word for what I have right now, particularly the last half of the second act. It moves the story along in the least interesting way possible. It drags and is often redundant. Worst of all, I managed to jam pack almost every original idea I had for this story into those scenes. The entire novel hinges on them.

Gulp.

I’m not giving up on this project. However, the entire outline needs to be rewritten from scratch, and now I’m just looking out the calendar and sweating. I mean, I guess I’m glad I realized this before I got two thirds of the way through the draft because I just know it would be a total motivation killer. And, yeah, I could just go ahead with the outline I’ve got knowing that it will need to be completely reworked, since, what with it being a first draft and all, it would have to be rewritten anyway.

That’s my backup plan.

For now, I’ve got about a week to crank out a new outline.

The struggle continues.

Labor of Love aka Writing is Hard

Preptober is officially underway! And with it — the inevitable crushing fear of complete failure!

Okay, maybe that’s just me.

I have been diligently working on my outline for this year’s project, Bordertowns. I crossed what I think is the midway point of the story last week, and when I did I came to a couple scary realizations.

The first is fixable: the plot is a little thin. While the main story line has been percolating in my brain for about two years, it hasn’t really been a creative focus until I decided last month that it would be my project of choice for NaNo. And, as it happens, less than a month hasn’t been enough time to formulate some good subplots.

As I mentioned in my last post, new threads are hard to come by for me unless I’m already in the middle of one. So while I’m committed to both saving the writing itself for November and solving this problem before the challenge officially gets underway, I think I might have to pencil in some writing exercises sometime this month to get those creative synapses firing.

Otherwise I’ll just be crossing my fingers and hoping any new ideas that might form late don’t derail me long enough to fail the month.

The second epiphany is not so cut and dry. See, I realized that while I am really enjoying the process of putting together the outline, the idea of writing the story itself is filling me with great dread.

Usually I’m itching to get started. A lot of times I already know which turns of phrase I’m going to use in what scenes, and some striking dialogue to include. But not this time. Now, whenever I try get myself amped for this story, I just get this ill feeling in my stomach.

And what’s even more strange is that I feel like I’m more prepared than ever this time around. While there are still a few question marks to fill in (see above) and the outline is still incomplete, I know more or less how to proceed from beginning to middle to end. I can see traditional story structure in my plot, though I have been careful not to keep it in mind while I work (since that tends to sap my creative energy when I do).

So why is it that right when I’m poised to finally reach two goals I’ve had since I was a teenager, successfully completing NaNoWriMo and also writing a complete first draft of a novel, that I’m truly, unequivocally dreading the process?

The only reason I can come up with is straight fear. Fear of failure, of letting myself and those who support me down yet again. Fear that my story idea is hot garbage. Or maybe even fear of the hard work necessary to achieve my dream.

I want to promise that I won’t let those fears keep me down, but honestly my track record is not great. What I can say is that I’m not going to let myself waste such a great start. Even if I fail to cross the elusive 50k words in 30 days, I can at least utilize the month and the community to kick me over the hump.

And, anyway, if writing wasn’t such a massive struggle what would I have called my blog?

 

Pantsing vs Plotting

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Come on, would I even be considered a “real” writing blogger if I didn’t post on this time worn topic?

Don’t answer that.

I’m gonna start by assuming everyone is familiar with the concept and just dive right in.

I have no new ground to tread here really, which might have you wondering why I would even bother wasting my very second blog post on a subject that’s been rehashed >9000 times in every corner of the writing internet.

The fact is after many failed attempts at completing even a first draft of my novel, I still don’t know where I fall on the plotting vs. pantsing spectrum.

Plotting has appeal to me. In my personal life I like to know what’s coming. It helps with my anxiety to have as much time as possible to mentally prepare for impending events.

Yet, pantsing has been my method of habit since I was but a wee fanfiction writer many moons ago. I’m not one of the lucky creators that has ideas spontaneously come to me in the shower or on the commute. I have to be physically in the muck with my work for new threads to form. In this regard, pantsing was tremendously useful in filling out a barebones plot.

However, as I began the transition to original fiction in my early 20s, I found that, without a known given to fall back on, crafting the plot as I went along didn’t pan out nearly as well. I would inevitably reach the Great Soupy Middle with either no ideas at all how to proceed, or more ideas than one could reasonably cram into a cohesive story.

So, to combat this, I swung hard to the opposite side.

My first foray into plotting was the Snowflake Method. Upon initial reading of linked article I was quite excited. The idea of starting a first draft with all the finer details already pinned down was a dream. However, after two or three attempts, I found myself quite bored around the fifth step of the Snowflake (the reasons why could be a whole post in and of itself, so I won’t go into it for now). Awash in creativity from the first few steps had me itching to just get started already, but… well, see above pantsing failures.

There was also a (relatively brief) period that I experimented with rigid story structure and scene anatomy, aggressively outlining each moment of my story with goals, obstacles, disasters, ect. Frankly, it turned out, the scientific approach was a major creative buzzkill.

Which left me with the question that led me to this blog post: what is the method that will work for me?

There’s no big conclusion here. I still don’t know.

With NaNo approaching I have another chance to find out with the added pressure of the challenge to motivate me to push through that Great Soupy Middle.

If whatever I do end up trying actually works, I’ll be sure to let you know.