Thursday, January 28, 2010

Reconsidering Processes

Yay! It's raining, so maybe whatever stuff that's in the air that's making me sneeze will be washed away! Or maybe I'll have to admit that I have a cold. If it is a cold, it's a pretty mild one, just bad enough to be annoying but not bad enough to count as truly "maybe I should stay in bed" sick.

I found yet another "blind date over coffee at Starbucks" scene yesterday (not literally -- that's just what I've started calling that kind of scene. I may have to do a blog glossary). This one doesn't have the ticking clock that makes a long getting-to-know-you conversation seem silly, like my earlier scene, but one of the characters has a good reason to think the other character is a threat to her and while she does need to get information from him to figure out what his role really is, I don't think that something in the vein of "So, what kind of movies do you like?" is what she needs to be asking.

This seems to be my usual Chapter Two Problem, though it's harder to tell because this book has multiple converging plot lines. This scene is well beyond chapter two, but it might be in the chapter two range for this plot line. The Chapter Two Problem is that I've discovered that I usually kill my entire second chapter during the revision process. Usually, new writers end up having to kill chapter one because it's a lot of backstory to set up the book, and then the real action starts in chapter two. I tend to have a strong start that throws the characters into some kind of action, then in chapter two they regroup and start exchanging information. I've learned that even if it doesn't end up in the final book, I need to write chapter two because it's almost like a writing exercise that lets me discover a lot about my characters, and I do end up using the information from chapter two in other places.

The "blind date over coffee at Starbucks" scene seems to serve a similar purpose as a writing exercise -- throw these two people together outside the context of the story and see what they would talk about and what they reveal about themselves. From the first Starbucks scene I've already used one bit of information in a different way that I don't think needs the earlier dialogue for it to make sense. Some of these scenes may be the kinds of conversations the characters would have later in the book. The trouble is, not to brag, but I think I write really good Starbucks scenes. These have wonderful, witty dialogue that captures the characters' voices, and I usually manage to work in a subtext of the tension appropriate to the context of the scene. That makes it easy to not notice initially that these scenes are out of place.

Which brings me to something that's forcing me to rethink my writing process. I'm discovering all these things because I put this book aside while I was revising that other one. I do tend to do major revisions after getting feedback from my agent, and while she does give me a lot of suggestions and insight, a lot of the revision comes from me just suddenly seeing the problems because I haven't looked at it for a few months. With this book, I'm seeing the things my agent probably would have pointed out. I do sometimes like to let a book sit for a little while, deadlines permitting, but I don't know that I ever get out of that book's mindset to take a truly fresh look. I'm also impatient. Once I get a book finished, I want to get it out there where it can do something, and I want to move on to the next project.

But it looks like there are benefits to really letting something sit and changing mental gears in between times I look at it. I think it may also be of benefit to write the first quarter or so of the book and then put it aside before moving on. Most of the things I'm catching here won't necessarily shift the rest of the plot, but some might, and by catching them now, maybe I'm avoiding a major rewrite later because the plot will go the right way from the start. This, then means that I've got warring impulses going on -- if I'm sticking to my goal of spending a certain amount of time writing every day, then the book will come together faster, but taking more time to write the book also has benefits.

This is going to require a mindset shift because I don't think it's a good idea to write a draft and then go play for a couple of months. I need to be working on something else. Probably because of my earlier tendency to keep getting shiny new ideas that distract me from what I'm working on so that I never finished anything, I've generally gone with a "finish something before moving on" policy. I don't have a lot of projects in various phases. Now that I know I can finish a book, what I may have to do is braid projects -- write the opening of project A, then spend a month or so doing research and development on project B, then go back to project A, revise the opening and write the rest of the draft, then write the opening to project B, then go back and revise project A, then revise the opening to project B and write a draft, then do research and development on project C, and so forth.

I can do that kind of thing right now because I'm not under contract. I'm writing full manuscripts because I think that will force editors to get past their preconceived notions of how they think the story will go based on my past work (with my last partial, I didn't mean it to be a romance at all, but a lot of the rejections said it was too much of a romance for them, so I guess they assumed that because I once wrote romances and there were male and female lead characters that it would be a romance novel). And it means I'm putting my strongest foot forward in a challenging publishing market. I'm not sure how to incorporate the lag time in deadlines if I'm writing to contract. It would be hard to fit a couple of months lag time before I spend a month or so rewriting, plus the couple of months it takes for my agent to look at it. Though I would hope that my agent would find less to comment on if I'm finding my own problems by giving myself lag time. I suppose I'll worry about that when it becomes an issue. The movie option renewal helps because I'm less frantic about selling another project right away. I can afford to take some time.

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