Writing is such a love-hate relationship.
No matter who you talk to, you’ll find someone who loves to do what you dislike, and who hate what you love. And not loving every aspect of the writing journey is okay. I give you permission to dislike something. But that doesn’t mean you are now free to make your own rules, or to break the established rules, or to produce an inferior product. Perhaps the insight and information below will ease you through the ‘dislikes’ into the The End.
For example, some people hate plotting. They say it stifles the creativity, puts them in a box where they don’t feel free to write. For me, I love plotting. And I’m not going to say you must plot or you absolutely don’t need to plot. The truth is, even those who say they don’t plot really do – in some dark part of their brain, they know where their story is going and how they’re going to get to the end. Plus, just about every publisher wants a synopsis, so even if you don’t plot in advance, you’ll do a plot outline at some point.
I do up a simple chart with however many chapters I think will be in the book, and I write a few words about each scene. Here’s a sample from a novel I wrote, “No Accounting for Murder”, book 1 in a mystery series:
|1 – Introduction
||5 – 1st inciting incident
|Carly Turnquist; Town of Bear Cove; mention past mystery
||Solve past mystery; introduce nudist colony
||Introduce mayor’s mystery; introduce secondary characters
||Numbered company; missing money and time constraint
||Receives fax job offer; mayor won’t talk to her
||10 – 2nd inciting incident:
|Receive fax threat in response to turning down job; drive to Denise’s; accident
||Find out brake lines cut; meet police officer
||Examine bank statements; see mayor;Nearly pushed in harbor
||Continue investigating; call to bank about numbered company
||Introduce principal; meeting; get go-ahead to keep on looking for missing money; mayor dead
|11 – Point of no return
||Mike agrees to help; talk to police officer; look at bank statements; was mayor’s death suicide/accident/murder?
||Return to Bear Cove; talk to Susan; introduce mayor’s gambling problem?
||Set up plant at post office; pull together notes; talk to mechanic; introduce development and dislike of mayor
||Coroner says mayor’s death murder; evidence mayor being blackmailed; get another threat
||18 – Crisis
||19 – Climax
||20 – Resolution
|Talk to mechanic about mayor’s car; Mike called away to client
||Carly calls police officer to check mileage on mayor’s car; Carly talks to real estate agent/friend
||Carly talks to suspects; she falls unconscious in house while Mike is gone
||Climax Carly taken to hospital; sets up news story for killer to try again
||Killer tries again and is caught; mayor’s wife returns stolen money; set up for next book.
As you can see, this outline is fairly open, not much detail, and leaves lots of room for the characters and my imagination to weave a story, while still resolving all the plot lines and keeping the action moving forward.
Another thing I often hear from writers is that they hate to revise. Okay. I confess. Me too. I would like to just sit and write the stories and let someone else do the revising. But the truth is, if I didn’t revise, I wouldn’t learn what works and what doesn’t. I wouldn’t understand the rules, which ones to break, and which ones to follow even if I don’t agree with them. I’d keep writing in the same style, and I’d probably find my voice wouldn’t change with the story. So how do I overcome this dislike? I make lists and tackle one thing at a time. I write down my characters’ physical traits and check that I’ve carried those through the book so my heroine doesn’t start out with blue eyes and end up with green ones. I do the same with my setting, treating it like a character so I don’t have Main Street crossing Water Street in one place and running parallel in another.
I have a list of ‘weasel words’, and I do a search one by one until I’ve eliminated most of them. Sometimes that requires simply taking the word out, or changing it. And sometimes I have to – gulp – rewrite a sentence. But the writing is always better for the investment of time. My list of weasel words has changed over time, as I’ve come to recognize that when I’m lazy, I fall into bad writing patterns, but here are a few of them:
It – describe what it is instead of saying it
It goes without saying
It was obvious
And – at the beginning of a sentence
All –ly adverbs
Anywhere there are two adjectives together – choose the better one, or choose another one.
The third complaint I’ve heard is about critique groups. Seems some writers have gotten into groups that just didn’t work for them. Or, most often, it’s a difference of opinion between the writer and one particular person in the group. That’s okay. As believers, we’re called to love everybody – we don’t have to like them or even do what they tell us.
How do I overcome differences of opinion from my critique group? I take each submission, consider who it’s from, and make changes according to the purpose of my story and my voice. If I have one person who says they don’t understand something, but the rest seem fine, I don’t make the change. But, if more than one person says they don’t understand, or the sentence is clunky, or the word is unfamiliar, I look at making a change. With an uncommon or foreign word, perhaps I can describe the object. For example, in another novel, “My Surrendered Heart”, I’m saying the rider threw the mochila over the saddle. Then I go on to describe: “The rider mounted his horse, effectively anchoring the two sets of saddlebags joined by a single sheet of leather beneath him.” Anybody who knows Pony Express history knows what a mochila is, and anybody who doesn’t, now has a picture of what it looks like. And the fact is, even if they don’t have a completely accurate picture, it doesn’t matter, so long as they understand the rider sits on it and it carries the mail.
Writing can be a lonely prospect, an intimidating process, and a questionable pursuit. But if you are called to write, if you are prepared to persevere, then you can become a writer who, while you may not enjoy every aspect of the process, will at least do what you need to make the story the best it can be.
Donna Schlachter writes historical romance, mysteries, and suspense. You can follow her on Facebook, and check out her blog at www.HiStoryThruTheAges.blogspot.com.