Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The END OF A YEAR- THE DEATH OF A NOVEL PART 1: Or Learning How to Listen

Medieval illustration of a Christian scribe wr...Image via Wikipedia
Since I started this blog around August 2010, I haven't posted much about the novel I am working on.  There's good reason for that... It's complicated.

"Oh, you mean there are fabulous plot twists, backstories that come back to haunt characters at the most inopportune moments, and stakes that soar into the stratosphere?" 

No. Not that kind of complicated.... Well, I mean sort of.

I started writing my first novel around November 2009 and ended said novel in Feb 2010 after 5 chapters.  It started with a fabulous idea, but the plot lagged, I had no idea what I was doing with pacing, so I scrapped it.

I took a break to read tons of YA, and scoured the blogosphere at night about writing and publishing. I read at least half of my "Books Read in 2010" listed on the sidebar during this "break."  I recommend this kind of a break to EVERY writer.  A time when you aren't stressed about word count, or goals, or anything.  Just take some time to learn- soak in the information that you need to grow.  If you really suck writing action scenes, then pick up some awesome action books and ANNOTATE those suckers! See what the pros are doing- what makes their writing wonderful? What makes you keep going back to the books you love? Have a hard time finding the balance with backstory/worldbuilding and real-time story line?  Use two colors of highlighters and color-code the first chapter HUNGER GAMES!  Collins is the master of dropping in just enough to let us know what's happened, but keeps us in the present. (sorry, teacher moment)

Novel number two, ELEMENTALS, started forming in April 2010. This was THE ONE, the BIG MAMMA JAMMA novel that would get me published and make me an "honest" writer. Here are the highlights:

1. Like a good student of Stephen King's ON WRITING- I started with characters in mind.  That's good.  Except, now what?  I didn't have a plot. Nothing. Just really cool characters. I knew I wanted to write Urban Fantasy.  I knew I didn't want vampires or werewolves, or witches, and I knew I didn't really want to touch faeries because Holly Black did them so well, and so many other people are doing faeries right now...  So I chose the elementals: Undines, Sylphs, Gnomes, Salamanders... and elves. (I know, I know about the elves, but trust me.)

2. I got a crit partner.  ALSO GOOD! But you see, she had already been working on her novel for 7 months, and was way ahead of me. I just had a vague idea about a girl who is attacked while on a field trip to the Renaissance Faire and some elementals save her. But, my crit partner wanted to start right away, so I started writing my first chapter to show her.  SHE LOVED IT! She wanted more.  There was no more.  So I became a pantser. AND I HATED IT! (type A personality showing through)

3. I wrote 5 chapters with pretty much no idea where the story was going at all.  Just the MC being drug around and told things.  The only thing that kept my story afloat was the witty banter of interesting characters. Yes, we can all see where this is going.  But I loved this story.  I knew it could really take off- if I could only figure it out.  I didn't want to be a quitter.  I wanted to actually finish a novel. And query it and everything.  Even if I got 10,000 rejections, at least I would have finished a novel.

"A plot, a plot, my country for a plot"
4. Thank goodness for summer break!  June-Aug 2010 was the Summer of Plotting.  While I was tucked away in the mountains with my family, I poured over my story.  I thought, and thought, and THOUGHT.  But still- to bastardize the Bard, "The Plot's the thing!" To compensate, I crafted CRAZY COMPLEX back stories and intricate twists with secondary characters.  I worked ten times harder than I needed to, and it was obvious.  Then, with only four days of our vacation left, I had a light bulb moment, and came up with enough plot to get me through the climax and the "almost end."

5.  In August I participated in WriteOnCon which I have blogged about earlier.  Seriously, the BEST thing I have done to help my writing career. I posted the first part of my chp 1 online for total strangers to read, and it was the fourth most viewed and commented on post!  What an ego boost.  My little story did have potential. (Even though it was a rough draft). The other best thing?  I Read Weronika Janczuk's  WriteOnCon post 1post 2, and post 3 on how to outline your novel based on Donald Maas's WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL (which I bought and thoroughly annotated), and THE FIRE IN FICTION. (Which I just bought and am annotating now). Then, I commenced to writing and fitting my plot in its shiny new outline.

6. Sept-Dec 2010 Was all about trying to find the balance of teaching 11th grade (which was old-hat for me by now), two classes of creative writing, sponsoring the Literary Magazine, AND coming home to work on my baby: ELEMENTALS. (My students and I decided this title must go). I wrote half the novel, over 30,000 words: the most I have ever written in my life.  I even crafted a luscious back story for our villain, so sympathetic, so tender- you would weep for him.  No wonder he is so twisted now.

I formed THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY TEEN BETA READERS: a select group of teens from my writing classes to read my chapters and give their "YA" opinion on my drafts.  The consensus: their favorite characters hands down were Fino- the salamander, and Dagny the best friend. Not my main characters. (But these two were my faves to write as well- they were just... more exciting).

7. CHRISTMAS BREAK 2010- THE DEATH OF A NOVEL: As soon as school got out for the holidays, I started typing.  I vowed to FINISH this novel by DECEMBER 31. I could do it.  On the weekends, my daily word count is 2K; I've hammered out a 3K word chapter on a good day.  I kept telling myself that in BIRD BY BIRD, Anne Lamott says your first drafts are "shitty."  Don't look back- just keep writing.  Revision is for later. But the little voices in my head kept saying, "But this is really bad. The plot is gimmicky. Why would your antagonist do this? Why does your main character have to go through all these hoops?"

So I stopped writing, and I listened to the voices in my head.  The inner critic. Because there is a time when we have to turn them off, trust ourselves and keep going.  And then there is a time when we have to trust IN ourselves enough to listen to what our experience is telling us. And I realized, I was holding on to this novel too hard.  I was trying to make it fit. It was a square peg in a round hole, or any other literary device you want to add here. Don't get me wrong, YES there are times, AS IN ALL THINGS IN LIFE, where we have to stick with it- keep going, through thick and thin. But here, with my story, it was just too hard, too contrived. I was trying too much- and it was showing in the writing.

(mini disclaimer: this is the part where I talk a teensy bit about my faith) ;-)

The prayer went something like this: "AAAAHAHAHAAAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHA HELP!" Amen.  Then, I asked God what in the world I was supposed to do.  I was terrified of failure.  I had worked SO long- a whole year on a project. (Something I had never done before EVER). But in the end, it's all about trust.  Do I trust Him with just one novel? Just one story?  Or, do I trust Him with my entire writing career?  I didn't want to just throw in the towel when things got tough.  I needed GUIDANCE...

Part 2 tomorrow!

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  1. WHAT? You can't end there. More! MORE!

  2. Elizabeth- I am wicked, I make you wait! Don't worry- the news is fabulous!

  3. Wowwy wow wow wow wow wowwy wowzers wow! You are dedi-to-the-cated! I can totes relate to the whole 'WHERE IS THIS GOING!?!?!? ALAFSHLKJS;;SGLGH!!!!' thing, but I think that's half the fun of being a writer. You get to be cRaZy and people are like, "Oh, it's cool. She's a writer". Virginia Woolf style, without the, you know, death.

    I can't wait for Part 2! And once Elementals is out there *makes fast car sound* you're off off and away!

  4. Caitlin, I think I was destined to be a writer, because I was born cRaZy. I'll come get you in my fast car and we can drive off together into the land of publication!