Monday, November 25, 2013

On Seeds of Ideas and Outlines

This weekend, I was asked, "When you started writing LitD, did you do any prewriting or note taking or any system for organizing your ideas first? Or did you just jump write in and start writing? I only ask because...I started getting little seeds for a novel...trying to figure out a way to develop turning those seeds into a basic plot line is sort of tough right now. So I just wondered how you started out initially in the planning/writing process."

This is actually something I talked to the hubby about recently. Those of you who follow me on twitter and Facebook know I've been working on another novel, which I have tentatively titled WINTER ON BRIMSTONE HILL. It's a **very** fictionalized version of my life growing up on the farm. I was telling  my hubby that I'm having a harder time plotting it than I did LitD. His response was, "Well, LitD was inspired, right? This one is" And it's true. LitD was the story I had to tell because it wouldn't leave me alone until I told it. I did minimal plotting. My characters introduced themselves to me and--it sounds cliche--they made everything in my novel happen.

That's not to say there wasn't any pre-writing. It took me a wicked long time to learn my MC Celia. Unlike the other characters, she had to spend much more time explaining herself. It look me somewhere between 3,000 to 5,000 words (which eventually all got cut) so I could get to get to know her. You know, this. I already wrote about it here.

The funny thing is I hadn't a plot in mind when I started writing LitD. I had a setting. I knew I wanted Celia in the Woods, but that was it. To me, the Woods would be where Celia came of age. So at first there was this big empty gap from the first fifteen pages until she got to the Woods. It wasn't until she spent some time in the Woods that I finally figured out a way for her to get there.

I tend to be organized. I like lists. Except, none of those propensities came out when I wrote LitD. I never once thought I'd be a "pantser" when it came to writing a book. Even by the time I got to the final chapters of LitD, I hadn't known exactly how it would end. When I wrote the last page, I was in disbelief. Could LitD possibly be over?

Now that I'm working on WINTER ON BRIMSTONE HILL, I'm finding that each time I attempt to plot, it gets lost, and the writing doesn't come as naturally. I've got about 20,000 words written, but right now their basic sketches of the characters instead of plot. My working outline has changed a lot since I originally started it. It's still very much taking shape.

WINTER was similar to what the person who asked me this question posed. It started with two sentences; I started to explore them. That's how I discovered Sarah (although, I might change her name). I took the two lines--"She rolled over to check if the milk was frozen. It was."--and played with the scene the two lines offered me. After I had about 3 pages typed, I changed it to first person and saw what happened. I liked it better. I had to alter some things, but it felt more genuine. Then I wrote some more, and as I kept writing, I kept slipping into first person present. So I went back and changed it to that. 

Each time I did this, I'd get this little nubbin of an idea of who Sarah is and what her world entails. I keep getting a better sense of plot. My current manuscript has all those pieces scattered between paragraphs and chapters and added to the end. Sometimes they're just lines that I've since elaborated upon, and sometimes they're tiny bits of plot. 

I wrote this way with LitD, but with LitD it felt more organized, less fragmented. I'm definitely not organized with WINTER, and it's certainly fragmented. I only have a couple scenes that have transitions into other scenes. I'm still learning about Sarah's life. I've got a good idea what I want to have happen to her, but I haven't made it "fit" yet.

I guess the whole thing I've learned so far is that I'm a pantser. I can't seem to stick to an outline; I prefer to let my characters decide what's going to happen. When I do that, the writing feels more natural. And hey, if it feels that way, it's gotta come across that way in my writing, right?