Sunday, May 15, 2011

Taking a Stab at Pre-Writing

Photo courtesy of
My first manuscript, Near Mrs., was an experiment in creativity.  I knew nothing about what it would take to complete a novel-length story, and fought my way though to the end. It's done, and I'm ready to put together my submission documents to start querying.

But it's not about the end result.  Instead, it's about the journey to reach it. I mostly floundered around for two years until I attended the Writer's Digest Conference in January.  Since then, I've linked into countless blogs to learn more about the process of writing, finding out for myself what works and what doesn't.

While I did manage to complete what I think is a strong manuscript, I certainly took the hard road.

I've had another project in my head for a few years now, and I've tried starting it a few times. The time I've spent on Twitter and surfing author, editor, and agent blogs was time well spent, and I'm starting this project again with a fresh outlook on the process of writing.  Not to mention that this isn't just one story.  It's one story, told three times from three different points of view.  The fourth installment will be a culmination of the three characters working together to save their worlds.

I'm a big fan of the Twilight Saga, and I wish Stephenie Meyer would go ahead and finish Midnight Sun. The limiting thing about first person, is that you only know what the point of view character is experiencing.  Unlike in J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series, in which you know what everyone's thinking, there's no way to know Edward's experience - we see it only through Bella's eyes.

That, in my opinion, is the fascination of Midnight Sun.  We want to know how he felt and reacted.  We want to know more about him. With this in mind, my concept for this middle-grade project was born.

My three sibling characters are sucked into their imaginary worlds.  The first story is Kate's.  She needs to negotiate her world, find her sister and brother and get them safely back home. The second story is Megan's. She also has to negotiate her world, but the parallel picks up when Kate finds her and they set off to find their brother, Ben.  The difference is, that while the story is the same event-wise, it's all from Megan's point of view, which is unique to her.

As you can probably guess, the third story starts off with Ben in his world, and doesn't pick up the parallel until Kate and Megan arrive. But we find out what Ben's been up to the whole time Kate and Megan have been searching for him. With this approach, I get to fill in the gaps and, hopefully, provide a more satisfying experience for the reader.

With the struggle of completing Near Mrs. under my belt, I have a better understanding of the difficulty in keeping track of the details. In addition, the voice of each character is key. They have to be distinct from each other.

So I did what I unsuccessfully attempted with Near Mrs.  I created character bios and drafted a synopsis before starting the manuscript. What I learned during my false-starts for this project was that I wasn't sure of how my characters felt about their experiences, and so my story wandered and stalled.  In addition, I couldn't come up with Megan's backstory at all. My confusion even affected the conflicts I was trying to throw into their paths. It was all disjointed and the problems didn't necessarily mean something to the characters, so the character arcs wandered and stalled.

All in all, each false-start was a disaster and deserves to be deleted, forgotten forever. The synopsis I drafted this week is stronger and more compelling than any of the scenes I drafted over the past few years, and I'm excited to finally have some true direction. I have a clear picture of the story's structure, and how each scene is going to fit with the next.  I also have a chance to work out some of the skills my characters will acquire to aid them in their final quest. I'm convinced it's going to be easier to write in these details during the early drafts, rather than rewrite entire scenes to work them in later.

I've never been the type of person to take thing easy and build up to a level of competency.  I'm much more the "baptism by fire" type, and figured I'd just jump in and take on a four-book series with the advice and guidance of my friendly blogging colleagues. I'll figure it out, and with any luck, I'll end up with something worth submitting for representation.

Have you, fellow newbie writers, found yourselves completely changing your approach with each subsequent manuscript? Was it for the better or worse?