Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Confronting that vast empty space

Hah! It worked. Barbara here, and actually on time for my Wednesday Type M blog post. Two weeks ago I posted that I was always forgetting because I had a very casual relationship with the calendar and the days of the week, so I had vowed to put an alert into my electronic calendar. The result? Here I am.

I might add that I am also looking for any excuse to avoid my current writing project. I have not yet reached the "cleaning the refrigerator" stage, but that might yet come. Writing first drafts is incredibly hard work, especially when you are staring out over that vast expanse of emptiness, knowing you have to fill it with roughly 90,000 words, and knowing a deadline hovers overhead, ready to crow in your ear or peck at your heels.

The first in the Amanda Doucette series
As part of the original contract for this novel, signed over two years ago, I had to dream up a title and "synopsis" for the book, along with those for the two previous books in the contract. At the time, that third book seemed awfully far away, and every writer knows a synopsis for a hypothetical book three years out usually bears little resemblance to the book that eventually gets written. Better ideas come along, or the idea, hastily dashed off, does not stand up under closer scrutiny. Furthermore, I am mostly a fly by the seat of my pants writer who finds outlines tedious and confining and who prefers to leap in and see where things go.

So here I am, with the two previous books in the Amanda Doucette series written – the first released in last September and the second due out this coming September – and running out of excuses to confront the third book. I have a title, PRISONERS OF HOPE, that is not likely to change and I know vaguely what theme I want to explore and probably who will get killed to kick things off, but Ive been keeping my options open in case better ideas come along in the writing.

About a month ago I leaped into the opening scene and wrote forward for about forty pages before hitting a wall. I did not know where this story was going, I didn't know what the characters should do next or why anyone should care. I have three main characters to play with (and a dog, but she doesn't get to tell her own story), which is one reason the pantser approach is such a challenge. One of the tricks I devised for unlocking a stalled story is to check what one of the other characters is up to. So I bravely soldiered on with my second character, until he too hit a wall. I fussed and fretted, took long walks, cleaned the house (well, sort of), and finally realized I had to brainstorm ahead. In other words, sketch out a dreaded outline, at least to get me out of this dead-end into which I had stumbled.

Georgian Bay, the setting of Prisoners of Hope
As soon as I started looking ahead and applied myself to the overall picture, I realized I needed to boot one character out of the story, at least temporarily. Her presence was clogging up the scenes and dialogue between the two more important characters through the first forty pages. Secondly, I changed my mind three times on who needed to die, all in the interests of generating juicy suspense and creating lots of questions. Then I brainstormed the next twenty scenes in rapid succession, ending up with an outline of what will likely happen in the next hundred or so pages. That is all I need for now. By page 150, I should be well into the story and lots of characters and subplots will be milling around, providing fuel for my imagination for the next 100 pages or more.

This morning I printed out my outline and wrote the first two scenes in it. Everything went fairly smoothly and what a relief it was to have something to remind me where I was going and why. I'm not saying I will ever learn to love outlines or even that I will actually follow this one if a better idea flies into view, but at least I am moving forward in the maze with some confidence that I am not in a dead-end.

I will keep you posted on how it all works out for me. How do other pantsers feel when they confront that vast empty space and realize they are lost?

1 comment:

Irene Bennett Brown said...

When I hit a wall back in my very amateur days and writing children's books, I would write the word 'Suddenly'. Then I'd ask myself 'suddenly what'? It always worked, although I laugh about it now.