Finding the Right Writing “Groove”
After breathing, eating, sleeping, and seeing ONLY my novella for a few weeks, I finally managed to cross the finish. Remember that draft I mentioned doing in my last post? Draft #3? Well, I was finally onto something there…but it still wasn’t right. It took me one more almost complete rewrite…but at least THAT draft was it. And once I’d tapped into the right vein, the words and story just poured out exactly as they needed to be.
The thing is, this always happens to me. And I know it–I know that it’s simply a matter of me uncovering the proper story. Then everything tumbles out in a waterfall of near-perfect words. It happened with Something Strange & Deadly, with A Darkness Strange & Lovely, and with Screechers. It took me a few misses before I finally hit the “right story”. I knew this would happen with this novella, but goodness, it took me a lot longer to finally get my groove. I went through 2 total rewrites with Something Strange & Deadly and A Darkness Strange & Lovely. For Screechers, it was 3 total rewrites. And for this novella, it was 4 total rewrites.
And it hurts–every single time. When I finally hit the right story and everything vomits out of me in mere days, all I can think is, “DAMMIT. ALL THAT WASTED TIME!” I spent so many months and so much energy hammering away at something that I ultimately threw away. Ouch.
But I also know, I never would have found the proper story without all those terrible drafts. Something in me had to shift–and not just devoting all my creative attention to one project (though this undoubtedly helped). It was also a matter of finally letting go of a synopsis that wasn’t working.
Most important of all, though, it was a matter of finally listening to the characters and finding their voices. This sounds so EASY, but it really isn’t. Not for me. Not with books that start with plot–which is very much what contracted books are.
It takes me 100+ pages of hammering stuff out before I can slip into the character’s voice properly (or in the novella’s case, 200+ pages). And even though I “knew” Daniel, I just COULD NOT get seem to get inside his head. Everything I wrote worked on a purely mechanical level. I feel certain I could have turned in any one of those drafts…but it wouldn’t have been right. Something was missing–not least of which, my own enthusiasm which absolutely transcends the page–but a certain spark in Daniel’s voice. A certain sort of “this is what I choose to do in this story, and it makes total sense because this is who I am and you all know me from book 1”. Again, it seems like I should just know him. But I didn’t. All I knew was that what I was writing wasn’t him.
Until it all just suddenly came together in that gigantic AHA moment that always happens with me.
I wish I wrote differently. Goodness, it would be so much more efficient if all my books toppled out of me like Purely Platonic did. But that story came to me in a flurry of voices and desire–I knew what the characters needed and who they were. The same thing happened with a space opera I cowrote with Sarah Maas. Once I had spent a chapter or two finding Mel’s voice, everything she did to drive the plot just exploded naturally from me. For both books, I just had to pour out the story points as the characters drove me toward them. I was started with the who and ended with the what.
Which says a lot about me and my writing groove: I have to start with character.
I always thought I was someone who built from plot. Who crafted big, twisty plot points and then settled in the characters accordingly… And since that’s what I’ve been trying to do for the last few books, that’s probably WHY THEY DIDN’T WORK. But when I finally let the intended plot go and just sank into the people and their desires, I found the plot and layers and twisty mysteries all evolved quite naturally.
I write from character. From voice. From the feeling in my heart that is also what my character’s feeling.
I am a pantser. I NEVER thought I would be, but…it seems that I am. A headlight plotter, at best.
It all seems so simple and obvious. O_O Like, why did it take me so many years to figure this all out?
But now, here’s to hoping that I can carry this realization into future stories.
You tell me: Have you ever realized the way you THOUGHT you wrote isn’t the way you ACTUALLY write? Have you ever tried to be a pantser when you’re really a plotter? Or vice versa?
P.S. A Darkness Strange and Lovely AND the untitled novella are now available for pre-order on Amazon! HUZZAH! Fist bumps all around!
October 15, 2012 @ 2:38 pm
I thought I was a pantser… then I found out I was a plotter because I can’t keep track of anything! hah!
Yay! Pre-order! I’m all over these!
October 15, 2012 @ 6:29 pm
It’s funny because I’m still MAJOR organized with regards to revising–super scientific and color coded…but writing drafts takes a bit more flexibility (for me). I still have to know where my characters are going–a few major plot points–but all in all…it’s pantsing for me. At least for now. 😉
October 15, 2012 @ 3:53 pm
First off I think it’s great to hear from you how hard it can really be to get through a first draft AND find a character’s proper voice. It can be so discouraging, especially when I’m spending time writing what I’m afraid is total crap and I also have a million other things to think about that a lot of people around me would argue to be more important. meh. Not to say that they’re not, but anyway. As for me, I’ve really evolved into a plotter. When I was younger I could write by the seams of my pants, but then a dark realization occured wherein I discovered I hadn’t really gotten anywhere…and the plotter was born. But I realized I really LIKED knowing where I was going. Like looking at a road map and seeing all the exciting stops beto come! Oh yaya! A Darkness Strange and Lovely AND a Novella? First BUMP major! To goodreads I go! dapolkabot.blogspot.com
October 15, 2012 @ 6:30 pm
It can be SO discouraging. Goodness. Even when I should have known Eleanor’s voice for book 2…I didn’t! It had been almost 2 years since I’d started writing book 1, and I had lost everything about her! I was smart this time, though. After I turned in book 2 last winter, I immediately wrote the first 100 pages of book 3. I PRAY that this helps me sink into book 3 more easily… Which reminds me, I should really be working on that now. 😉
October 15, 2012 @ 11:03 pm
I think I’m a pantser. That’s the way I’ve written all my short stories. Write a basic story… not quite right… ruminate, ruminate, ruminate, find the hook! story writes itself.
But now I’m writing a longer piece. My first. It’s coming hard. I find I’m having to plan a little. To organize, outline. Grit my teeth and keep coming back to it when real life tears me away from the keyboard.
But this longer piece will be finished if it’s the last thing I do. Not to tempt the Fates. But.
So I’m glad to hear your tale. To be able to write under pressure is a wondrous thing.
Thank you for sharing.
October 16, 2012 @ 2:09 am
Ahhh, gritting your teeth and typing on–that’s the way to do it! Are you doing NaNoWriMo? I’m hoping that’ll be the daily oomph I need to power through book 3……
October 15, 2012 @ 11:12 pm
You mention all these projects that I wanna read! Sneaky lol When will you have ARCs of aDSaL?
My stories always start with character, too, or maybe with a character IN a situation that I have to build a plot around. However, with long stories, I need need need a basic outline of the scene/arc/plot or else I get STUCK. Every single time. With short stories, however, I just get a general idea and run with it until I get the story I went (and then spend double that time trimming all the unnecessary junk out… but if that’s what works, then that’s what I have to do lol)
October 16, 2012 @ 2:11 am
I get stuck in the middles–that’s usually where things start to fall apart. I’ll have to (as Louise put it below) “ruminate, ruminate, ruminate” until I have a vague idea of where things need to go. Then I write more, reevaluate, write more, and so on. Until The End. It’s that whole “headlights” method of plotting.
But…every book–EVERY BOOK–comes out a bit differently. I wish I could find some consistent method, but it has yet to happen… 😛
October 16, 2012 @ 2:22 am
I’d always thought that being a plotter was a requirement of being a writer, but whenever I tried to plot anything my mind would go blank so I’m most probably a panster. Finding character voices are hard. I especially agree with you about knowing them, but not being able to convey that on paper. Sometimes it actually starts to become something of a fear to me– my panster characters could do whatever they wanted and I’d just go along with it since I don’t know them, but with plotted characters I feel like I always have to question if they were acting in-character or not. It’s very frustrating, haha.
October 18, 2012 @ 1:20 am
Honestly, Rae, it takes me 50-100 pages EVERY TIME to finally nail the voices… Usually my beginnings require more rewriting or revising than any other part of the draft, and I’ve finally just learned that it’s part of my pantsing process. If I try to force a character according to an outline or mapped out character sheet, it NEVER works. 😛
October 19, 2012 @ 3:20 am
I’m a complete plotter. I wish I could just sit at my computer and write out a complete story, but it’s never worked like that for me. Without plotting everything beforehand, I’d probably get characters mixed up, get details out of order, etc. Although, once I do start writing, I find myself changing things here and there, or coming up with a new, better idea for something. I just can’t imagine doing so many total rewrites. You’re a very patient, dedicated writer, Susan (which is why you’ll always be SO much better at this than people like me!) 🙂
October 22, 2012 @ 6:02 pm
Pfffft. I’m not better–I’ve just been doing it a bit longer than you, Lori. You are sooooo selling yourself short, lady!! But yeah, I actually am outlining my NaNo side project right now…but only overall BIG PLOT things (since it’s a murder mystery and I have to figure out all the clues/witnesses beforehand) but not all the other stuff–I like to have dialogue, romantic tension, etc. unfold naturally. <3
October 20, 2012 @ 10:47 pm
I was wondering, how DO you get inside your character’s head? Does it just come when you’ve plodded along into the story for the first 100 pages and then there is a sort of BING moment and you know their voice?
I am having a similar problem – I know the plot – know my characters (or so I thought) but now am finding it difficult with my MC female lead – I’m not one hundred percent sure of her personality …and that’s what makes the writing lacklustre. Hmmm…I’m wondering if it goes away as you plod through the first draft, and each draft you get closer and closer to the MC?
I know what happens and I know a bit of her backstory but does her voice come as you write?
October 22, 2012 @ 6:05 pm
Honestly, it takes me a solid 50-100 pages before I really understand them. It sort of evolves over those pages, so that the voice on page 1 is nothing like the voice on page 100…but the voice on page 50 is closer. Does that make sense?
And yes, there are definitely times that it takes me draft after draft to hone a character. Right now, I’m working on this YA contemporary with two POVs. I can already tell you that the two POVs are too similar in voice. In my head, they’re very distinct, but I’m pretty sure it’s not translating onto the page. BUT, I know it’s something I can go through and fix during revisions–drawing out the quirks of character, turns of phrase, or manners of thought that make the two POVs unique…
October 22, 2012 @ 9:08 pm
Ah, thank you so much for responding 🙂 That definitely makes sense! I’m super excited to get to know my character better as I’m participating in Nanowrimo, been dreaming/outlining/researching for this project for a few months now and am just itching to get started haha.
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