I know it’s been a while since I posted something about my writing. It’s not that I haven’t been writing, editing, outlining, planning, submitting, etc. It’s that those activities are standard fare and so provoke little comment.
However, I am currently outlining a new story, and I’m watching it change as the story unfolds. I thought this might prove of interest to some of you.
Those who took my workshop Idea to Outline should find some of this familiar, but for the rest of you, my process goes in stages from idea, to initial synopsis, to breaking down that synopsis into scenes, to filling in the holes, at which point I’m ready to write.
Dry Boiled came to me as a voice, one I don’t normally do, but one perfect for the genre it seemed to be.
A while back, on a Monday because I always do laundry on Monday, I had the dryer going, music on my computer, the heater on, and possibly even more background noises in a house that is normally quiet when the boys are at school and the hubby is at work. At the same time, our teakettle’s whistle had been acting up, having laryngitis more often than not.
You may be able to see where this story is going…and where the book got its title. Yes, I remembered that I’d put a kettle on not because of a whistle, but because of the sharp tang of burning metal. Needless to say, it was not recoverable.
That in itself, while annoying, did not bring a story to life. It wasn’t until several days later, maybe even a week, that I got a flash of snark, a female voice cursing a horrible day that began with dry-boiling her favorite kettle, a gift from one of her wacky relatives. That’s all I knew, but the story started creeping in, other dimensional energy, kidnapping as a child, and the mob plus Secret Service. It’s a doozy. The flash came in early January. By mid January I had her back-story worked out and some concept of where the story was going.
I left it to percolate while I worked on Holly Lisle’s How to Revise Your Novel (HTRYN) class, one where I chose a truly broken novel that is giving me a workout for sure.
Then I decided to do March Madness, a crazy seven day writing challenge on Forward Motion that I had decided to pass up this year. I’ve changed my mind. Faced with not one but three separate novel ideas, I thought I’d put some time into pushing them to the writing stage. But when I tried to put down an initial synopsis of Dry Boiled, I had three distinct paths to take, and none of the felt right. Great frustration occurred, and I almost shelved the project for more percolation, when *click* it all came together. I started kicking the tires at 2pm on March 4th and by 10pm the same day, I had a workable synopsis.
So on to the next step. This week I started outlining.
The snarky voice is clearly there, leading me to contemplate a first person novel even. The scenes are coming together nicely. The characters are starting to come alive, as are some of the underlying conflicts that flesh out the plot in my synopsis.
But the story is warping.
In my synopsis, I leave a teaser at the very end about two possible romantic entanglements.
In my outline, we’ve met the leading man in the second scene. He doesn’t know it, she doesn’t know it, but I can see the trend already coming into play. The first thing she notices as her tiny apartment becomes crowded with black suits wearing grim expressions is how his deep voice is soothing. Soothing. She should be angry, or afraid. And she is both of those. But her reaction to the lead agent is one of comfort? Danger, Will Robinson. Danger! And when she teases a smile out of him, all is lost.
Sure enough, they’re poking and prodding at each other, pushing buttons and finding unexpected moments of connection. And this is just the outline.
Sigh. So my paranormal romance, Selkie, turned into a gothic romance (which means dark, troubling, and not quite what you’d expect of a romance), and now my urban fantasy might just be heading the way of Suzanne Brockmann with a little paranormal tucked in.
And you know what? That sigh is rueful for sure, but I’m happy with the change. A lot of people talk about how their first draft can never live up to their image of the story. I hadn’t realized until writing this post why that never made sense to me. A story is a living, thriving, changing thing. Like a child, it grows into its own, sometimes moving in unexpected ways, but always becoming more than the limits of my initial concept. Each stage of my process is an opportunity for that story to take on a real life. How disappointing if it stayed the flat, two-dimensional object that represents my first image. Instead, characters step up to the plate, conflicts I’d played with gel into great knockdown, drag out fights where the reader gets to see inner issues even the characters kept hidden from themselves, and the result is so much more than I could have come up with while holding the line, fighting off development, and keeping true to my initial vision.
Which is not to say the first draft is perfect. Heck no. I find the work of editing annoying enough that I’m taking a class to come up with a better method. I produce solid final drafts from what I can tell. I just want to struggle less in the process of doing so. However, even the worst of the monstrosities my first drafts have been, even Queen’s Return, the broken novel I’m dragging through HTRYN, are better than the idea that sparked them. Storytelling is not about ideas. Storytelling is about bringing a tale to life through the use of words, and no dry recitation of an idea is going to offer what a mature story can.