Wednesday, August 2, 2017

I can't "write" 55

I've been toying around with the new novel, getting my facts, doing my research, and trying to get it all down on the page.

I have a "rush forward" personality. From the time I was in kindergarten, I was always the kid in school who worked ahead and got scolded by the teachers to wait for the rest of the class (until one teacher in high school actual let me work at my own pace). Once I understand something, I want to learn more, so I blaze ahead.

When you're writing a first draft, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Following Stephen King's method of writing, get it down. You can clean it up later.

As I get my thoughts in order, I went ahead and sent my first chapter to 1) the person I'm asking for help with research, making sure I get the occupational aspect for my characters right, 2) my critique group to see if I have a viable story. These are the days that make authors want to crumple it up and throw everything away! First, I need to thank Sarah for providing me with the research. I think she was surprised at the vomit that I'd written as a first chapter (it'll get better, I promise!). Second, my crit group took on the role my teachers always had. "Slow down, wait for the rest of the class."

Many times, a first draft is for the author. What do I need to know about my characters? About the setting? About their lives? In my rush to start writing, I threw EVERYTHING into the first chapter. The main characters, the supporting characters (there were ten of them right off the bat), where they are, where they're going, every subplot and conflict. Best description for this? Traffic jam. All of this information is critical to me as an author, but as a reader, it's confusing. I don't need everything all at once.

With the story unfolding in my head and my facts documented, I can now slow down, spoon feed my readers. Let them meet the main characters and what drives them, then peel back the rest of the information as it becomes relevant. Enforce a speed limit.

This is still a first draft, and I'm 10,000 words into it. Yes, I expect a large chunk of those words to disappear upon rewrite, and the first Chapter 2 has already been rolled into Chapter 1, with much of Chapter 1 relegated to the "you can bring this back later" territory.

Chapter 1 is the most important chapter in any book. This is where you draw your reader in, tease them with what lies ahead, but make them want to keep reading to find out. With the ruler to the knuckles from my initial feedback, I can move forward at a more realistic pace and use much of what I pulled out as plot points for subsequent chapters. Yes, I will likely continue to rush forward -- that's what I do, after all. But that's what first drafts are for, and I know I have a support group that will keep me in check so I don't get too far ahead of the rest of the class.


  1. I always have this problem, but not quite as much as you describe since I don't do all that "plotting" in advance, so I don't know enough about the story or characters at that point to dump too much on the page at once. But it's taken years and a lot of books to get there.

    1. I don't normally do quite so much plotting ahead of time either! This new book has been a unique experience!