"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

She can be taught

To use engineering terminology, when I wrote Freezer Burn, I spent about three months in design, then about four months writing. Most of my design time went into the plot. I was so worried about leaving clues hanging in the breeze and having the wrong person in the room when a bombshell was dropped. If you've read or watched any bad mysteries, you know what I'm talking about.

But the people... the people I knew. Apart from a few notes on their physical characteristics, I knew who they were, what they liked, where they lived. I did end up changing the killer halfway through writing, but basically, all I had to do was take these folks and plop them into the story.

I approached Hit or Missus in the same way, but it turned out completely different, for a number of reasons. One is that I was trying to make the crime uncomplicatedly complex, if that makes sense. Dale's comment, when he read Freezer Burn, was, "Peri needs a harder case to solve." So I wanted it to be clever without needing a Powerpoint presentation to explain it all. After months of thinking and writing and talking to people, my story outline still seemed shaky, but I went ahead, hoping the plot would be pulled out of the writing.

Somewhere in the middle of the book, I was writing a scene and realized it was boring. Peri is investigating, blah-blah-blah. Or maybe I was bored. It doesn't matter why I did it, but I hit Peri in the head with a golf club. At that point, I threw the outline away and went rogue.

The good/bad news was, my seat-o-the-pants writing exposed a fatal flaw: I hadn't really "met" my guest characters. Sure, I knew Peri, Skip, and Blanche. I even brought back Benny, due to popular demand. But the new men and women Peri was meeting were like paper dolls. It took me months to go back and figure these people out.

Months of re-writing. Months of doing what I should have done before I even started plotting. Gah.

I've started the third book (as yet untitled). It has a basic premise: what would happen if I burned down Benny's house? I began the book during NaNoWriMo and learned something very important: I can't write a book during NaNoWriMo. I got about 7500 words written and hit a wall. I needed more research, more confidence, a better idea of who done it and why. After finally writing several rambling essays on the original crime, I began putting the outline together. And yet...

What was I missing? Come on, class, let's say it all together:

Gayle hasn't met her guest stars yet.

So although I'm antsy to start writing the book, I need to go back and put the time into my people. I'm using Michele Scott's worksheet, "Interview With Your Character" to define the folks who'll be helping/sabotaging Peri in this story. Yes, even the dead people. BTW, I highly recommend these worksheets. Michele's a good storyteller who loves to help other writers. She loves horses, too, so naturally we've become friends.

The good news is, once I get all these ducks in a row, the writing will be a snap.

Writers, out there, does this sound familiar to anyone? Or am I doing it all wrong?

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