Armed with a slew of ideas taken from the news and history, I sat down to write from a very loose outline: guy kills people, guy get caught. Yeah. Not really specific enough. Turns out, finding the story is harder than it looks. Each individual problem has to be woven into the manuscript and addressed.
As an essay writer and columnist, I had did not consider any genre constraints or reader expectations of a novel. After reading thousands of books and watching hours of television and movies, I knew what I liked. Since all suggestions included “write what you know,” I figured I had this.
I didn’t. It took weeks of thinking while walking, shopping, showering, toileting, dog-walking, dreaming, driving, and zoning out. Chapters would come to me at inopportune times. I’d have to step away, pull out my 3×4 spiral notebook and write it down. I couldn’t go anywhere with a pen and paper. I even folded sheets of 8×11 paper for less bulk. Now, I also use my phone.
Dreaming is another technique I use. In a graduate psychology class, the professor gave us a problem that we were to solve though dreams: what is the next letter in this sequence: OOTF_? It took me three nights to figure it out. Since then, if I focus on a problem before going to sleep, I often get answers in my dream or over the next few days. One night I dreamed my second novel, before I had finished the first. I woke up, wrote it down, and went back to sleep.
With the first novel, my first draft took four months while I recovered from spinal surgery. Not so tough. Anybody can do this. Now what? Unlike many writers, I liked my work — in part because I didn’t have enough information to doubt it. I gave to a few local readers for a beta review. Out of all of my volunteers, only the last one said, “Nope.”
I asked, “Why?”
She clammed up. I pressed her. She didn’t like the heroine because she never initiated anything.
My friend nailed it. I wrote what I knew. I was the heroine. While I am often not the initiator, proactive, I’m an excellent problem solver, reactive. Readers like proactive winners, not winners by default.
The result: 2nd Draft – kill the backstory diversions that pulled the reader out of the story. I realized I had put them in to remind myself who and why. Removing them made the story stronger.
3rd Draft: rethink character and their arcs – how they change power withing the story. Pick a fairy tale and trace the character development.
4th Draft: character development who they each are, good and bad, so they are true to their reactions. The best advice I ever got for this was from my friend and teacher, Zita Christian,
5th Draft: plot didn’t work. Friend and teacher, Lynne Barrett, explained it in her classes, which I had to sit through more than once. Each time I learned something new, I modified my manuscript.
6th – 9th Drafts were editing and revising, beta readers’ comments, grammar, and line editing.
I want to clarify what “draft” meant. Going over and “fixing” 70,000 words. Adding characters, plot twists, and tension points here and foreshadowing by beefing up characterizations and issues. It’s rewriting the story, giving the characters a chance to change, grow, and change the course of the adventure. Which they did. Often as a surprise to me.
It took me five years to complete the first book, Seduction.
Holding the actual book in my hands gave a thrill of accomplishment I’ll never forget.
I loved the journey and believed I’d be gifting my readers with a wonderful read.