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Monday, July 26 2010

I'd forgotten how refreshing first drafts can be. The limitless possibilities, the wide open page, the sense that the story can move in any direction. Once I put words to paper (or e-document) and go back for the rewrite, it's an entirely different experience. The words already exist and I must fix them. I'm boxed in by my previous decisions.

Not so with a first draft. Oh, sure, I outline a bit. I sit down and decide on a basic plot, who's going to die, and how the story will open. From there, I start to write, and as I write the story unfolds before me. I might see where Gwyn is headed in the next chapter or two, but the end of the book is far off in the distance, a hazy image that won't come into focus until I'm at least two-thirds of the way through the book.

Of course, that lack of outlining has its drawbacks. More than once I've found myself staring at the computer, at a loss as to where to go next in the book. Should Gwyn head home for dinner with her family? Stop off at the store, where she accidentally overhears a clue? Trip on a step and break her neck, solving the murder from her hospital bed? On those days, I'll just save my work, close Microsoft Word, and take a break. Sometimes the answer will strike me within a few hours. Other times, the solution might take days. But eventually, the story rears up and points me in the right direction.

On the flip side, I know of writers who create a synopsis and then sit down and outline every chapter of the book before they begin writing. And I doff my hat to those people (you know, if I wore a hat). Because that method is not easy. I've tried it, discovered it doesn't work at all for me, and gone back to my more haphazard approach. But a major advantage to plotting the entire book is that it saves you a lot of time. You don't have to backtrack and fix what you've already written when you figure out where the book is really going. I'm only a third of the way through my book rewrite and the text is already littered with reminders, such as, "Go back and mention note in chicken scene" or "Make sure the assistant refers to the ring near the beginning." At some point, I'll need to return to the early part of the book and fix these issues.

But I'm ignoring that for now. I'm solely focused on moving forward, curious to see where the trail leads and if it will all make sense in the end. Then I can go back and work on what's missing or broken, rather than fix it now and fix it again when the story takes an unexpected turn. If only I was better at plotting!

Posted by: AT 04:22 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, July 20 2010

The detectives crawl on their hands and knees, swiping at the blood on the floor with cotton swabs. They carefully place the swabs in tubes to take back to the lab, where results will be returned in a few hours. Across town, the detective calls for backup, then rushes into the building without waiting.

At least that's how it goes in the world of television. Proper procedure and realistic timelines are thrown out the window in exchange for fast-paced action and nail-biting suspense.  Who wants to watch a detective stand around in the parking lot while his coworkers drive over? Who wants to root for an entire SWAT team when they storm a warehouse in pursuit of a single guy? I suddenly start to worry about the villain. Is he crafty enough to escape? Will he slip out unnoticed when surrounded by all those armed cops? But give me a lone hero, so focused on justice that he enters the building without caring for his own safety, and of course I'll be cheering for the good guy.

But that inaccurate version of police work creates a dilemma when writing fiction. Do I stick to the facts, bland as they may be? If I write a factual portrayal of police procedure,  will readers shake their heads, confused that my version doesn't match the TV version? If my detective has to wait weeks, or even months, for his DNA results, will people say, "That's not how it works on CSI."

In the end, I strike for a balance. I try to make my books as close to reality as possible, but when a scene simply doesn't work that way, I change the rules. And hope the reader doesn't mind. I try to provide valid reasons for why my heroine is acting foolishly. Why is she confronting the killer when they're all alone at night? Because she blurted out her accusations without meaning to. Or to stall for time because she knows help is on the way.

And sometimes you have to bend reality to make readers happy. People often mock how killers in books openly admit their crimes and provide their motivation instead of killing the amateur sleuth right off. How many episodes of Murder She Wrote have we seen where the killer holds Jessica Fletcher at gunpoint while admitting their guilt and answering any questions she still has? Sure, it's not real life, but without these explanations and the denouements that follow from the main character, the reader will feel cheated. They need to know all the details to feel satisfied with a book. So I'll just keep that killer talking, spilling all their secrets, until my heroine can overpower him and bring him to justice. Never mind what happens in the real world.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 03:35 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, July 12 2010

I was on fire. I was spitting out words right and left, easily hitting my 1500 word-a-day quota, oftentimes even more.  And husband decided to turn his three-day weekend into a week-long vacation. And my writing came to a dead stop. Not only did I not have a chance to sit down at the computer most days, but my brain wouldn't function properly anyway. I could barely remember what my book was about so far, let alone figure out where the plot needed to go. I was in full-blown vacation mode.

Oh, I tried. No, really, I did. I scribbled on a piece of scratch paper while my husband ran into a store and I was left to wait in the car with the kids. But, of course, with such a narrow window of time, I focused on my LadyKillers blog because I could at least finish that.  I arose one morning at 5:30, convincing my older son it was too early for him to get up and sending him back to bed. And found I was so far behind on email, that I had to answer those first. Then I had to edit the final chapter for a member of my writing group, as her book is due to the publishers this week. And by then, the whole family was up. One day, I even stuck the baby in the playpen while my husband took my other son golfing. Turns out you can't write a stitch with a crying baby in the background.

So what did I have to show for all that effort? Not a thing, nada, zilch. A big goose egg. And now my impressive first week word total of 9000 words has to be split between two weeks -- one week where I wrote furiously and one week where I lounged on the beach, went to the fair, and ate ice cream at Fenton's Creamery.

Now I have to get back on track. Sit down and have the words flow out of me like root beer out of the dispenser at Fenton's. If only I could clear this brain fog. Help! What's my book about again?


Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 12:41 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, July 06 2010

The results are in and the conclusion is not good. While various publishers like my writing style, they feel the book itself is not cozy enough. Not cozy enough? That response really surprised me. One thing I've always declared with certainty is that my book is a cozy. No cussing, no sex, little bloodshed, small town setting, amateur sleuth, quirky news stories. It doesn't get much cozier than that. My writing group agrees. My agent agrees. But alas, apparently there's cozy, and then there's super cozy. And I need to make my book fall into the latter category. To do so, my agent has recommended that I rework the book. This did not make me jump up and down with joy. I like my book. I think readers would enjoy it. But ultimately, I want to get a book published and to do so, I'll need to provide the editors with what they're looking for.

So, after moping for a couple of weeks, declaring the publishing world completely unfair, sticking my head in the sand and waiting for an editor to realize their mistake on passing on my book, and then throwing up my hands at the injustice of it all, I'm ready to embark on my latest adventure. I'll be keeping the main character, Gwyn, along with her sister and her mother, plus her love interest. But Gwyn is getting a new job and someone else is going to die. Rather than just reworking a few parts of my mystery, I'm conducting a major overhaul that will change ninety percent of the text. And all in the shortest period of time possible. While I'm not technically under deadline, the sooner I can complete this latest revision, the better.  Because in the publishing world, what's hot today may be ice cold tomorrow.

I've put myself on a schedule, with a 1500 word count quota each day from Monday through Friday, no writing on Saturdays, and editing on Sundays. Whether or not I can stick to this schedule remains to be seen, but if I don't establish some kind of plan, I'll sit around picking my noise and thinking up fifty excuses as to why I don't have time to write just now.

I must admit, after only a few days of new plotting and writing, I'm having a lot of fun. Let's just hope I can maintain this enthusiasm for 70,000 more words until I have the best, coziest mystery the world has ever seen. And hopefully a book I love.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 09:29 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email