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Thursday, August 15, 2013

My Weirdo Writing Process--Middle Grade Edition

So, I finished a draft for In the Kingdom of the Selkies. (*confetti cannon*). This story has been calling to my heart for a long, long time.  I thought I'd just talk kind of generally about how I write a longer book--you know, what goes through my mind and all as I tackle the beast. I was inspired by similar a post by Maggie Stiefvater, but I cannot find it anywhere. If you know the post, let me know in the comments and I will link it.

Anyway, here goes:

Before I even write a word:  I have a document (the manifesto) in which I write down all the dreams I have and ideas about the story.  This is a fun time, a time when I won't allow myself to  write the book because usually I am busy drafting or revising something else at the time.  This is my playground when the revision/drafting of another book has got me down.  Sometimes, I might write something like this:

 I want this story to be beautifully imagined, tinged with sadness and a touch of magic, but not too much.  I want to feel, as I am writing it, that the writing rings true and honest.  That there is really no way the story could have happened any other way.  I want the bits and pieces to fit together like a mosaic, not woven together all nice and tight like a rug or cloth, but like a stained glass window, so that when you look at it from far away, you can see the art of it, but there are places in between, places that leave the whole thing up to interpretation. The spaces in between are important.

(I wrote this about In the Kingdom of the Selkies^)

At this point, I am not writing the story, but writing about the story, which are two different things altogether.

When I am ready to begin the book but and much too scared to actually do it:  At this point, I have convinced myself that this book could be GREAT if only I WAS GOOD ENOUGH at WRITING to do it right.  I am far too petrified to actually face a blank page, so I keep playing around in the manifesto.  Often, I'll start playing with tag lines, or one paragraph pitches, so I can get myself excited about the story.  Sometimes, I will write snippets of dialogues I can imagine characters saying.  And I have created LISTS of possible character names, trying them out, writing sentences with them together to see if they "go".  I am not outlining here, repeat I AM NOT OUTLINING, I am playing.  It sounds much more fun because it is.  Eventually, I try out some opening lines or paragraphs--just to see, you know? Somewhere along the line, I find a sentence that leads me into the story.  It's like going into that room with a hundred doors and you have to find the one that opens to the tunnel which will lead you...away.

0-1,000 words   I am still not sure if I am going down the right path for this story or not.  I am really scared I am going to mess it up, and then come to the realization that the idea that I loved is really dumb.  I am still writing in the manifesto, for I am not confident in it enough yet to put it in its own document yet.

1,000-5,000 words At some point, I have cut and pasted the best parts of the manifesto into an actual DOCUMENT.  The moment is usually a little different for each story.  It's where I think, "YES!  I want to work on this for the next couple of years!" (Because that's how long it will take before it will be published, if it is good enough, of course).  I am pretty confident about the book, even though I have little idea where it is going to go.  It is all about getting to know my characters and letting them drive the plot.  Sure, I'll throw some things at them to see how they will react...and I love it when they surprise me.

6,000-10,000  Planning my outfit for the Newbery banquet.  This book rocks!

10,000-17,000  Whoa. Wait a minute.  Is my pacing off.  How long do I think this book is going to be, exactly?

17,000-20,000  And this, ladies and gentlemen, is where I pause, take a gigantic breath, and write a synopsis.  (If you are thinking, YUCK, then you are right.)  But since I don't outline, once I know the story and am about 1/3 to 1/2 of the way through, I need to figure out where I THINK I am going.  (I have been wrong before.  I have gone down one path when I meant to go down another.  Somewhere before the 20,000 word mark is usually where I make some deadly mistakes, if I am apt to make one regarding this particular book.)  Sometimes my synopsis will say something like :

"And then something happens which makes the character change their mind.  I don't know what it is yet, but I think it will happen around here...."

At the midway point of a book, I am really considering the structure.  Am I writing short chapters?  Is that working?  How is the POV holding up versus the pacing of the story?  (I really do ask myself these things...usually I will answer myself with, Fine, fine, it's all fine...because reworking what isn't working stinks.  But it is often necessary.)

Sometimes things are chucked here.  Big things.

20,000-30,000 Oh yeah.  I see where this is going.  Wait! Wha?  Where did that come from? (major amazing epiphany or major amazing surprise!! Yay!) or Wait! Ugh!  I just stepped in something (major unamazing plot hole.  Poo.)

Sometimes things are chucked here, too.  Big things.

30,000-35,000 Sloggity, sloggity, slog.  I can see you, ending.  Yes, hiding behind that bush.  Nice try.  I just can't seem to get to you.

35,000-40,000 Will this book never end????

40,001- Oh, well, it just ended, I guess.

Now, since I write middle grade, I am usually shooting for something between 35-45k. Sometimes the story is longer, sometimes shorter.  And I tend to be an underwriter in terms of detail sometimes, so I know I usually have to add stuff during revision.

So there it is.  The Shelley Moore Thomas Weirdo Writing Process.  Such as it is.

Is your similar?  Different?



Melanie Conklin said...

We share a lot of similarities in our writing processes. I, too, dump all kinds of pre-writing and random thoughts and character notes etc etc into a journal well before I start writing. Periodically, I set the MS aside and return to the journal to flush things out even further. Around 10-15K, I try to make sure I have a solid idea of my midpoint and the remaining steps to the climax (which I generally have in mind at the star, as it's the necessary turn for the character's emotion arc) . . . and then, as you said, writing, second-guessing, more writing, slogging, THE END! :D

Jessica Lawson said...

Loved hearing about your process! With me, it changes every time, but one common thread is that I don't really discover my theme until I finish the first draft and start revision. I'll usually have a theme or two in mind while drafting, but it's during revision that I'm usually like, "Oooooooh. So that's what this book is about. Huh. I'd better go back and beef stuff up/cut things to reflect that more."

Julie Dao said...

I loved this! I think that "playing" before writing a book is an excellent idea and I will try it before I write my next one. I have something similar, but never concrete - sometimes I'll pin pictures, or make a music playlist, or write snippets of dialogue. But you know I'm an obsessive outliner. I have to know where I'm going before I head out, but things do happen that I don't plan. I hang out in that same room of a hundred doors that you do and hope I'll find the right one!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I love this! I'm going to bookmark it, print it, pin it to the wall!
Really, I want to try your method, because I can see how rewarding it could be. Too often, I just jump in and then flail.

Laura Marcella said...

I'm a plotter/outliner, but I also play before doing that. It's one of my favorite stages during the writing process! Our processes have similarities when it comes to what's going through our minds at each stage, LoL!

Happy reading and writing! from Laura Marcella @ Wavy Lines

Myrna Foster said...

Thanks for breaking down your writing process, and congratulations on finishing! My process is very similar.

Julia Anne said...

I love the way you broke this down for us! I love to have a general plot curve before I start, but I find that the best details come to me as I am writing a draft and make me say "DARN I NEED TO GO BACK AND ADD THIS!" haha

Carmela Martino said...

>>I have a document (the manifesto) in which I write down all the dreams I have and ideas about the story<<
I love this idea and definitely want to try it with my next project. My process varies every time, but in general, I just sit down and start writing. Since I don't plot in advance, that means I end up doing a lot of rewriting!

Annis Cassells said...

I'm a newbie at trying out fiction, mostly short stories for now, but I can see how this process might work, and I'm inspired. Thanks so much for letting us inside your process and your head.