May 12 2011

Method 1- Plans are overated

Let’s start in 2005.

There I was, living on twenty acres of prime central Minnesota swamp land, ten miles outside of a town of twenty-five hundred people. I’d moved there two years before because my wife had always wanted to do the Dr. Quinn medicine woman thing and be a small town family practice doc. Which meant that she was working a good sixty to eighty hours a week. Which left me at home alone with our two-year old daughter, in a very nice house, in it’s very nice swamp.

I was going insane.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my daughter, but two year olds are not the most intellectually stimulating companions. I needed something to do besides making grilled cheese, reading Dora books, and changing diapers. Something I could do during nap time. Something besides laundry and housecleaning.

So I started writing.

I hadn’t seriously written since high school. Hell, I wouldn’t describe what I did in high school as serious either, but I did write some then. But I needed something to do.

I tried a few short stories. Started, stopped, revised, gave up. The same problem that had stopped me writing in high school still deviled me- it’s so much easier to think of a story than writing one. But I stuck with it, and kept poking at ideas.

Then one of those ideas went out of control on me.

It was a dumb little short story. A girl meets a guy with a dark secret. Seriously, it was that original. But it changed on me. What if the girl had a secret too, one that she didn’t even know? Sure, not real original either, but it started to make a character in my head, and she wouldn’t go away. Not without a good story.

So I tried to write one for her. I wrote a few, actually, building up new plots around her, tearing them down, trying new things, never having any idea how it would end. Eventually, the story started moving in a way that I liked, kind of, but by then I had a word count of over twenty thousand words and growing. This wasn’t a short story in more, it was the start of a book.

A book. That was slightly panic inducing. On the other hand, who cared? I was just filling up nap times, trying not to go crazy, and it was working. So maybe I would write a book.

Writing a story that long meant I needed to change things again. More characters. More conflict. A bad guy! Yeah, the original story didn’t really have a bad guy. Told you I was new at this. So more writing, more building up, more tearing down.

Most of my writing at this time was guided by three things- the personalities of my characters, the very vague plot outline that I had in my head, and kick-ass scenes.

Kick ass scenes. Every story has them. There what you remember after you put the book down. The chorus from your favorite song. The explosions in an action film, the sex in a porno, the monster in a horror movie, the sword fight in, well, anything. The stuff that would come get you if you tried to skim it. The kick ass stuff. I had scenes like that in my head, clear as day from the story. So I wrote out a narrative that strung them together and let my characters run from one to the next.

In the end, after five months, I had a book. 83000 words, though I probably wrote close to twice that with all the false starts and redos.

So is it a good book? Sort of. The characters are good. The plot has good potential. There are some really kick ass scenes. But it’s a first book, and it needs work. It’s getting that now. I’m running it through my critique group, getting ideas on how to make tighter and faster. Also, having stepped away from it for a few years and written a bunch of short stories and a couple of other books, I think I have a better handel on just plain old writing. So it’s a book that’s getting better.

Getting it in shape is the plan for this summer.

Well, that and writing an ass-load of short stories. Damn things are clogging up my brain.

 


May 8 2011

How to write a book, in three contradictory lessons

It’s the beginning of May, and I’ve hit the final stretch of my third book. By the end of this month, the first draft should be done.

It better be done.

Anyway, when I tell people that I’m working on a ¬†book, I tend to get a lot of questions about my process. Am I an outliner or a pantser*? How long does it take? Which comes first, characters or plot? So I thought I would go through how I approached each of the books I’ve written so far, detailing my process (such as it is) and how its changed from one book to another.

Along with the basic mechanics, I’ll talk about what I’m doing to try to get them published. Because while it’s kind of cute to think of these books as my sweet, beautiful babies, it’s time for baby to get sent off to the sweat shop. These kids have spent enough time being coddled. It’s time for them to grow up and start earning their keep.

*Pantser-someone who writes by the seat of their pants. No plan, no plot, no problem.

May 1 2011

Spring Forward

The weather has turned, and summer creeps closer on big thunder-thumping feet. Coming back with the leaves, if not so thickly, is time.

So, in addition to hitting my writing goals (how’s that going? unhappy face and a kick to your shin) it’s time to mess around with the propaganda. I’ll be cleaning up the page a bit and adding some new stuff. Cause I’m so interesting and everything.