The Curse of Starting Too Soon

First of all, the good news. I managed 16,500 on Dry Boiled, give or take a few words, for the March Madness (MM) challenge at Forward Motion. I’ve found challenges are a good way to jump start a novel and get me rolling so I can keep up a reasonable pace all the way to the end…not that the 6k a day I’d been planning for MM was at all reasonable. The just over 2k average is much more so, but in general I go for 1k a day average when I’m not in a challenge.

The story is an interesting one for me to write, mainly because of the point of view. A flip comment from a friend when I was talking about how this voice is a new one for me (neither serious nor sweet) led me to start out in first person, and even more than that, first person present tense, something I’ve never done in a novel before. So far, this is working out quite well. My main character has a strong personality that she throws around the page with a delightful effect, at least I think so. Which is to say, I am enjoying the novel quite a bit as it comes together…or at last I was until an epiphany last night.

The history of this particular idea is a little chaotic, and I’ve mentioned it before in terms of coming in a cluster of ideas. Because of the added difficulty of deciding which novel to run with, I was late starting into the outline process. And then, when in full outline mode, I threw my back out. This didn’t mean I stopped, but I slowed down a lot :). Honestly, looking at it this way, I’m surprised I didn’t throw poor Sere out on her rear end, declaring the novel cursed.

What did happen was that when MM rolled around, I had easily enough to finish the challenge, even if I had been able to get the 40k I was hoping for. My back was still thrown, though, and I couldn’t hope to get a decent run if I blew the first few days of a 7-day challenge on working out the ending scenes that I wouldn’t reach anyway.

Now I’m an experienced outliner. I started outlining my novels after my third and haven’t looked back. Even more, I’ve stretched and grown so much as an outliner that a lot of the “oops” moments unsually discovered in the first edit pass, I catch in the outlining process. Like the character I threw in because the way the events were shaping up made no sense without an outside agency.

Except…I hadn’t finished the outline.

I write plot-based outlines and let the characters fill in their bits as I go along (both in the outline process and in the first draft). When I’m done outlining, I go back and do a basic evaluation to make sure the plot logic is sound and I like the way it comes together. This step is necessary because of my characters coming to life during the outlining phase. The cardboard stand-ins who exist when I start my outline are often flesh and blood by the time I’m ready to write my draft.

All that process built over years of practice and refining thrown out the window by a bad back and the inability to back down from a dare.

So, in the big climactic moments, I introduce a brand new character on the antagonist’s side who is there under duress, only the MC doesn’t know that. As a character, she’s interesting, has all the right motivations, etc. She even has sequel potential now that the book took a serious lean toward paranormal romance on the paranormal romance vs. urban fantasy scale. But, and here’s the crisis, it’s too late in the book to introduce a pivotal character and there’s no way to seed her before then, except maybe as a faceless lab coat glimpsed as the MC is passing through a corridor. Not good.

Even more, there’s a thread that was mild in the outline (problems between the MC and her family) that I fleshed out a bit more over the next few days when I tripped over an outline section that was pure synopsis with no concrete scenes to make those events happen.

The epiphany was simple. That thread is dangling. That thread, with a little nipping and tucking, could replace the character under duress, bringing about the same events in a stronger, more angsty way.

I’m thrilled. Really I am. Can’t you tell from my tone?

Actually, I like this new direction. It solves a number of problems quite tidily and, as I said, while making the MC miserable. Had all this come to be while I was finalizing the outline and getting ready to go, I’d be jumping for joy. However, right now, it’s got me stunned and unable to focus. My brain is incapable of working out the specifics of this new ending, and identifying what from the old one needs to be massaged into the new scenes and what can be tossed at the same time as I am progressing forward where I am.

I desperately need a cloning machine. Not because there’s too much work, but because my brain needs to be in two places at once.

The obvious answer is to fix the outline now. I’ve been doing that, and making good progress. But it’s annoying to have my forward motion cut this way so I thought I’d share my own angst with you.

Oddly, a friend of mine (yup, the same one who stuck me with a first person POV) is working off a light outline. She did this to herself on purpose. She’s choosing to have to re-evaluate things as she goes and building it simultaneously to filling it in. I thought she was nuts to do this before. Now I’m sure of it.

So, what about you? If you outline, do you do bare bones or detailed? How do you handle moments when you’re trying to figure out what’s going to happen later in the story while writing? Or are you smart enough to avoid it in the first place?

It’s said that recognizing that you have a problem is the first step to solving it…and I have to agree. I wrote this post as a catharsis, a recognition that I wasn’t able to move forward. Having exposed that weakness to the world, however, I couldn’t let it stand. Using tinyalarm, a computer based timer, I gave myself 5 minutes to prep, then dove into 15 minutes of writing. Then a 5 minute break, and another 15. I knew it was working when I ran over after the 15 minute alarm went off. End result then was almost 1100 words, and my second session I didn’t even bother with the alarm, coming out just over 2500 words for the day, which is more than I’d been hoping for. I still have to redo the rest of the outline (an extra 641 words went to that), but I have a plan. Never thought I’d regret not having outlined on index cards though :).

This entry was posted in Challenges, Dry Boiled, March Madness, Novels, Outlining, Writing Process. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to The Curse of Starting Too Soon

  1. zette says:

    I am working on an unnamed fantasy novel. I’m 24k into it and I am working with a very light outline this time. I started with 14 points. I’m now on point . . . 3. Eeek. If it goes this way, it’s going to be a really LONG book.

    I usually have a stronger outline. Having one with only a few points has encouraged this book to go off on wild tangents. I’m not sure if that’s good or not.

    I hope to reach point 3 on the outline before 30k. Or maybe before 40k.

    Maybe it should be the start of book 2?

    • MarFisk says:

      You know, almost every book I start, I worry it won’t be long enough. But once I start writing… Hugs on the wild tangents. You’ll just have to clean them up in the first edit. That’s why I prefer a more complete outline. Cleaning stuff up in the outline is easier :).

  2. I can’t believe I’m here saying hello from the nut gallery. Now I know what you really think of me. 😛

    • MarFisk says:

      Hey, I was being subtle. There you go outing yourself again. Can I help it if you decide to torture yourself on a regular basis, and I keep accidentally copying your path?

  3. ellsea says:

    I prefer to work from an outline, but leaving room for tangents – so my stories never quite finish how I expected them to … but I tend to just crash through a first draft and worry about stuff later. Of course, it leaves me a huge amount to do in the edit to tidy it all up.

    • MarFisk says:

      I started out like that, but I’ve been doing more and more of the development at the outline stage. It wasn’t a conscious change, just a natural progression. That said, no matter how developed, the scene blurbs and their resultant scenes are never quite the same, something that becomes more apparent the further I get into the book. But they’re usually similar enough that it still works to keep me moving forward.

  4. Bonnie says:

    I start from the tangents 😀 That’s where all the fun is. So I don’t know whether, when I say, “I would just crash through the rest of the draft as if the first part had been already written the way I wanted it, then I’d go back and fix the front,” I’m saying the same thing as Ellsea. I find the problems that arise from losing track of the flow are more severe and harder to recover from than the problems in a difficult edit.

    I’m saying this not to offer advice but to give you a point to measure against, since you know how differently we work 😀

    • MarFisk says:

      LOL! But the problem isn’t the front. The front is better than I originally conceived it. It’s the end :p. Yes, I know we work differently, though with a comment like “I start from the tangents” it reveals just how far. I can’t even understand what that means, since to me, to be a tangent it has to come off something that’s not tangent. But then, you’re much more willing to fix things up in the edit phase. I still want to do as much of that up front as possible.

      However, I will note that if something happens later in a draft that changes the beginning, I do the same. I’ll make notes about the change and keep going as if it was written that way. The beginning often requires massaging after the fact anyway, so rewriting it in the middle of the draft doesn’t make sense to me.

  5. Dawn says:

    I start with ten points, identify beginning, middle, end, and then I dive straight into chapter seperations with 1 – 2 scenes per chapter as I’m comfortable. Then I build it up, very detailed, and I’m very comfortable with about 30 – 40 chapters before I start.

    It’s worked for me for 3.5 novels this way, and I see no need to change. Outlining seems to be the place I have least trouble with, which is nice. But then again, I’m still working on the content. My stories aren’t perfect, not yet…

    • MarFisk says:

      Interesting. I don’t chapter until I’m writing, normally. I’m not chaptering Dry Boiled for some crazy reason. I have markers for the places I’m sure a chapter will end, but I’m not numbering because I’m not sure about the rest.

  6. Kit (baka_kit) says:

    If you figure out where to buy a cloning machine, will you let me know? 😉

    I’ve found that in general, what works best for me is a fairly light outline, so that I always know which plot point I’m heading for next, and how it’s all going to end. (Sometimes I write the ending out of order, if it’s already clear in my mind.) Too much outline and I feel like I’m plodding along on a path I’ve already walked a thousand times, not enough outline feels like I’ve been dumped on a plain with no landmarks in sight.

    Just to make it all more complicated, “enough” varies from book to book.

    • MarFisk says:

      Wouldn’t life be easier if all our books worked exactly the same?

      I was talking to a friend recently about outlines and I realized they’ve never been rigid or fixed to me. It doesn’t matter how long or light the outline is. It’s an attitude thing.

      On the other hand, while it would be easier if we could establish a distinct pattern, it’s good that you recognize that the books are different. Who knows where your outlining will take you.

  7. Pingback: outlines, answers, and questions « Cowgirl in New England

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