Friday, March 5, 2010

Structure Strikes

When I started writing 'Let's Do Lunch,' ten years ago, I had nice characters, pieces of plot and sub-plots that were very engaging – but after 50 pages the story went nowhere. I had a dutiful daughter, a shy gardener, a snarky sister, a sneaky waitress and a lecherous cook. Certain scenes hinted that the gardener had a crush on Lindsey. Others hinted that the cook was up to no good.

Then I had the 'outline' epiphany at our face-to-face writer's group Bard's Corner. I ran down some 'if/then' statements on the spot. What if the cook was the real villain? What if the waitress had two kids to raise. What if they were moving dope, not just stealing? What if the shy gardener was a soldier just back from Iraq – gravely wounded, shell-shocked but healing, a brave man made shy and self-conscious by war?

From there I created motives, conflicts and back-story for every character. I also made the commitment to one point of view character – this was Lindsey's story.

The next step was a timeline – I picked Derby Day as the start date – the story would end on July 4th. Everything that was going to happen would take place in eight weeks. I figured my villains couldn't hold on much longer than that. Eight weeks on speed would burn anybody out.

After that, writing was easy.

As I got closer to the end of the first book – I started working on the second. I had a bunch of ideas from the Breakout Novel books and a book on character archetypes & the Three Act structure.

Since I was better educated, I outlined the plot, created the calendar, typed up a few sample scenes. I was ready for NaNoWritMo – though I didn't bother to sign up. I had 25k words by the end of the month because I knew where this story was going, and how to get it there.

The result is 'Swallow the Moon' a paranormal romance, now in its second draft. While the book is short – I think that it will be a publishable length at 55k words.

For the 3rd book 'Tempest in a Teapot' I'm putting each plot-point on an index card. I have two parallel plot lines (his and hers) that need to mesh. There are two Point of View characters – Wendy and Leo – with all kinds of plots and counter plots swirling around them. It will also get a calendar so I can keep the plot moving.

Why go to all this trouble?

All my research into publishing has shown me that selling one book isn't going to cut it. Nor is it a 'one book a year' business any more, the mid-list is dead. So much has changed in the last 5 years – what a pity that I didn't try to sell the book I wrote 20 years ago.

Staying visible is going to mean a book every 6 to 8 months. Making money is going to mean a back-catalog of 4 books (barring the sale of film rights.)

(BTW - That's a joke.)



madisonwoods said...

Hi Kat,

I enjoyed reading about your process. How other writers do what they do is fascinating to me.

Index cards worked for my story points because it allowed me to stay contained to a small space with my thoughts at a time when they were all over the place. Story-thoughts come to me like that, all scattershot at the start.

Ms Kitty said...

Same here - more so when I'm working with multiple pov plot lines.

Since I've learned that every PoV should have their own character arc - I'm very careful with plotting. It seems to me that the more PoV characters the weaker the suspense and the plot.

The new WIP - "Tempest in a Teapot" is my most ambitious plot yet. I'm toying with the number of PoV characters.

I'm committed to two - Wendy and Leo - and I'm committed that Wendy is primary and Leo secondary. My primary antagonist - a "Palinesque" character may earn her own PoV.

The structure of this story is so important. Making it work is going to be a challenge.

"Lunch" was a challenge on many levels. "Moon" is my application of the lessons learned there. "Tempest" is a contemporary - a sequel to "Lunch" in many ways.

We'll have to see how this turns out. I'm enjoying the process - now that I've healed up some. (G)

Thanks for the comment.

Jean Davis said...

I love what if questions about my characters -- both the kind that pop up in my head throughout the day and from outside sources. Great things almost always come from the answers I'm forced to come up with on the spot.

Ms Kitty said...

There is nothing like some pressure to get the mind working. (G)

More so when you are writing a genre like fantasy where the answers are wide open. That's my favorite part of writing in that genre.

I'm going to take another look at the workbook for 'Writing the Breakout Novel' by Donald Maas. Just to re-fresh my mind on the process as he outlines it.

I want to have the same sense of tension in this novel as in the second.