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Monday, May 23 2011

I've finally settled into a writing routine for Book Two. It took me a few weeks, but as I mentioned in an earlier blog, once I got past the intro chapters, killed off Ashlee's boyfriend, and had Dana start investigating, my writing speed picked up with a clear understanding of where the story is headed.

But I still have a lot of work in those first few chapters. Right now, I'm ignoring that little problem so it doesn't slow down my momentum, but eventually, I won't be able to avoid those rewrites. Since this is a series, the second book has to move forward from the first one, while at the same time providing plenty of information for anyone who didn't read the first book.

In the first couple of chapters, I need to explain the background setting of the series, from the locations, including the spa, Dana's home, and Blossom Valley in general, to the cast of characters, ranging from fellow employees to family members to the love interest. But that info can't seem too repetitive. Already, I'm worried because Dana has helped the cook in the kitchen and served a meal, and then she cleaned the cabins when the maid called in sick. All these things happened in the first book too. Since Dana spends most of her time at the spa, what with it being her day job, these duties are perfectly natural, but somehow I have to make them sound fresh and new for anyone who read the first book. And you can only say so much about bathroom cleaning and vacuuming before people become bored.

And the first three or four chapters are littered with notes to myself to fill in blanks and double-check information from the first book. What kind of couch sits in Dana's living room? What's the freeway exit that leads to the spa? What's the name of the supermarket downtown? All minor details but definitely items that have to be consistent from book to book. People will notice.

Ironing out these details is all part of the writing process. It can be hard work slogging through the same chapters over and over, but as I fill in each blank or correct each note, I'll be that much closer to a decent manuscript.  So in the end, it's worth it.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 09:47 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, May 16 2011

Some of my fellow bloggers on the LadyKillers blog (http://www.theladykillers.typepad.com/) recently discussed the phrase, "The one that got away." In a large sense, missed opportunities are the escapees in question. You meet a great guy at the airport while waiting for a connecting flight, have a few laughs, share some stories, but then never see him again. The perfect job vacancy opens up, close to where you live no less, but the spot goes to a more experienced candidate. A relative offers you her cruise tickets when she's unable to go herself, but you can't get the time off from work and have to pass. All those situations leave you wondering what could have happened had things gone differently.

In terms of my writing, the one that got away is shrunk down to a much smaller scale and refers to all those great phrases and bits of dialogue that pop into my head in the middle of the night, or while outside with the kids, or during a long drive, that then vanish before I can write them down. Often, I'll wake in the wee hours of the morning and create entire scenes in my mind. At the time, the action and dialogue seem so vivid that I can't imagine ever forgetting them. But I do. Time and time again.

So now I use notepads to catch all those fleeting thoughts. I started by placing a pad and pen on my nightstand. But then my kids thought it was their own personal drawing set. Oh, the giggles as they merrily scribbled over my midnight chicken scratch. Now the notepad sits on my bathroom counter, behind a baby gate, far enough back that my oldest can't easily reach it. There, I jot down the main points for the next chapter, or recurring themes I want to keep in my mind as I write, or a clue that I need to weave into the plot. It's not a perfect system. Often times, I'll think of an idea while I'm downstairs or outside, and then have to hope I'll remember it by the time I get upstairs again. But I tried multiple notepads around the house and found it was a hassle keeping everything together, especially since I sometimes lost the notepads altogether.

So one notepad is the best plan. Just the process of writing down the idea frees my mind to come up with new ideas. And after a while, I have an entire book. Then I can start the whole process over again.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 11:00 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, May 02 2011

One of the women in my writing group had her gall bladder unexpectedly taken out last week and it got me thinking. In some ways, the surgery is a lot like trimming your text in writing (except the surgery involves a lot more pain and medication - at least you'd think so).

I mean, here you have an organ that's been a part of the overall system for a long time. You don't really think about it. The gall bladder just does its job and hangs around in the background. Until one day, when BAM! It goes crazy and you suddenly find yourself at the hospital, having it removed. What happened? Did the rest of your body change and the gall bladder couldn't keep up? Had it always had issues and you didn't know until the problem became more obvious? Who knows? All you know for sure is that the doctor declares your gall bladder a lost cause and insists on taking it out.

And so it goes with writing. You might write a sentence, giving it about as much thought as you do your gall bladder, and move on to the next sentence. There's nothing wrong with the previous sentence. It serves its purpose with little fanfare, happily nestled between two other sentences to make a benign paragraph. And then BAM! One day you discover the sentence simply doesn't work anymore. Maybe you've written enough of the story after that sentence to realize that it sounds funny or is no longer accurate. Maybe the sentence wasn't really that great to start with but you needed to step away for a fresh perspective. No matter what the cause, the sentence has to go, much like the gall bladder.

But it can be hard to remove entire sentences, regardless of how small a role they play in the story. How will the cut impact the paragraph? Is there some seemingly trivial bit of information in the sentence that is really more crucial to the story than is realized? What if I take it out and then later want it back? Just like you have to wonder how important the gall bladder is. The fact that it's part of the body to start with would imply that it has some level of importance. What if the doctor takes it out and it impacts how the rest of the body works?

But with a little time, the body will readjust and learn how to function without a gall bladder, much like the paragraph and ultimately the story will still work after removing the sentence. It might not be exactly the same, but with any luck, the story will end up better. And one day, you'll forget the sentence was ever there, just like my friend's gall bladder.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 11:22 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email