My new idea is coming together and I'm about to start writing...soon. I'm not quite ready. In the past, I always had a general idea, a main character, and then I'd set off writing. Some people call these type of people organic writer or pantsters, as in fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants. Many writers I admire tremendously write/wrote this way. Madeleine L'Engle, Stephen King, Anne Lamott. I wanted to be like them. I read Bird by Bird and On Writing to learn from them. And I tried to write like them. Only I'm NOT them and my stories never quite worked. Anne Lamott once described writing a story like driving a car through fog. You can only see as far as your headlights go, but you can travel across a long distance that way if you just keep driving. (Edited to add: Turns out she is quoting E. L. Doctrow, and then expounds on that idea-- it's on page 18 of Bird by Bird.) And Stephen King pointed out that since he never knows how his stories will end, it ensure his readers will be surprised, as well. He begins with a question, much of the time. What if... What if vampires take over a tiny town? And when you chase that interesting idea, you get Salem's Lot. I liked this. It works for some great writers. I did some What If questions and got a great question that I wrote a manuscript around but I never really got a good answer to my what-if question and the middle was lacking, too. It just didn't work for me.
Then I read several authors who swore that you couldn't write a good beginning until you knew where your story would end. Obviously some can and DO (so forget the blanket statements), but...hmmmm. Well, that made sense. When I write my passages for assessment companies, which, granted, are far shorter, I have to pitch the idea first and that includes what will happen. I go in knowing what will probably happen. Do my characters "come alive" and do unexpected things? Sometimes, but not like Madeleine L'Engle desribes. She and Stephen King both describe their characters like you and I would describe their friends, as people with a mind of their own. I still thought this sounded so great. So I was still internally resisting this idea of planning my novels. I wanted so much to be like my idols.
Then I stumbled on a blog about plotting a storyboard and from there found Alexandra Sokoloff's amazing site all about the three act structure of a good novel or movie. I've been reading a ton from this site and it's all been so fun. I literally don't watch movies the same anymore! My girls had Cinderella on in the living room while I was making dinner and I was thinking, "Hmmm...well, I think when the Fairy Godmother appears, that's the transition into Act II, because we are now in a magical world..."
And so....drum roll...I made a plot board! Yes! Because I'm a good little student who always does what the teacher says! But it's been really fun and I'm slowly realizing how much more likely it is that I will end up with a novel that actually WORKS as a complete unit, not a bunch of good scenes I like that are disjointed and simply don't add up to a solid novel.
I'm hopeful. And did I mention I'm having fun? Surely that's a good sign.
Here's after my first run of putting up my post-its.
Then, after talking about the world I'm creating with my husband and reading through more of Alexandra Sokoloff's site, I've added more thoughts:
Finding the time to sit down and begin writing feels more scary this way, though. Because I believe this COULD work...if I just don't mess it all up!