Road Closed Ahead

Flooded Roads Everywhere

Flooded Roads Everywhere

This month I have been writing my first novel using a detailed plan. I am halfway through and I thought I’d share how it’s going.

As I discussed in my last post it took me a long time to get started, although that was partly due to the nature of the story. Ironically the ‘hard’ scenes have been the easiest to write, in as much as they’re the heart and soul of the story. I can get swept up in the emotion, however horrible, and the words flow.

Harder has been the overall narrative. Writing from a plan is a little too left-brain for me. I am analysing my writing too much (groaning over how many times I use ‘then’ or start sentences with characters’ names or pronouns.)

According to a quote I found on the internet, “Left brain thinking is verbal and analytical. Right brain is non-verbal and intuitive, using pictures rather than words.” (Ucmas.ca)

That should mean left-brain is great for writing, right? Not for me. Oh, I probably have fewer continuity errors, virtually no typos and spelling mistakes, and near-perfect grammar. But the story has no flow and no imagery. It’s all words and clichéd descriptions of emotions.

I know, a book is generally made up of words! But I realised on my last quick scan that there is no description after the first page. I mean none. No sounds, smells, sights, room descriptions, setting, weather. Just dialogue and action in a vacuum. That can all be added of course, but I write better prose subconsciously, so it’s more risky to have to add it during edits.

The other problem is that, even though I have drifted from my original plan to some extent, I am still lost without my cards.

I came on the school run today without them. I usually write for an hour in a coffee shop and then head home. I knew what scene I was due to write. All good. Except I’m stranded in town due to flooding, and I’m stuck.

Spending the whole day in a coffee shop should mean I can bang out five thousand words. But I don’t know what comes next. I’m 30,000 words from the climax scenes and I can’t remember how I planned to get there!

On a positive note, however, I do seem to be mostly on track with Snyder’s Beat Sheet, even if I’ve ignored half the scenes and all the word-count estimates. And it was useful, during the 20,000 word dip (that NaNoers might recognise) to be able to look at the next card and keep on plodding on.

I really need to finish this first draft by the end of term, especially if I want to enter the Good Housekeeping competition. Unfortunately the kids break up two weeks today (darn those early Easters) and even though I’ve written 45k words in two and a half weeks, it’s feeling like a huge challenge.

I guess I could just make a start on the climax scenes and plug the gap later. I prefer to write linear, but needs must!

And of course, there’s my final dilemma. In my plan someone may or may not die. I didn’t know during the planning process. I still don’t know. I hoped I would be clear when I got there. I guess once a pantser, always a pantser, even with a pretty set of index cards!

Too Scared To Start

A Book in Card Form

A Book in Card Form

I know it’s been ages since I wrote a post. What can I say? My fortieth year seems to be a time of change. Looking for a job that pays actual real money, de-cluttering the house and fixing things we’ve put up with for ages, trying to lose some of the 30lbs I’ve gained in the last decade without actually going on a diet because, cake.

And, despite my last post, trying to write a book for adults.

After my defeatist post, saying I wasn’t going to write for adults anymore, I decided that was a bit crap. So I downloaded a book I’ve heard great things about, called Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. It’s a book on how to write screenplays, rather than novels, but the principles are the same.

It’s brilliant.

Snyder uses a 15-Beat plan to plot a screenplay (or novel) and it’s the first time I’ve seen a beat sheet that actually helped create the plot, rather than just lay it out and break it into acts.

For the first time ever, I have planned a complete novel from beginning to end, set out in 45 scenes, with word count targets, turning points, characters, motivation, conflict and resolution. I usually start writing with a character and an ending and that’s it. This time I didn’t even really understand who my lead character was until I was some way in.

So, I have these cards. This plot. This complete story. And I’m scared.

I’ve never written to a plan before. What if I can’t flesh out the story to do my plan justice? What if I try too hard and it’s stilted, because I usually seat-of-pants my writing, which gives it great vigour and flow. What if, what if…?

Even though I have a complete story there, ready to be written, I have writer’s block. It’s horrible.

I forced myself to write a couple of scenes this morning, just to get going. But it was HARD. To make it worse, I have accidentally written a plan for a story that is tough. Difficult scenes, not-very-nice characters. Grief, angst, worry.

As part of his lessons, Snyder recommends that you choose a hero that, “offers the most conflict in the situation, has the longest emotional journey, and has a primal goal we can all root for. Survival, hunger, sex, protection of loved ones, and fear of death grab us.”

I don’t normally do conflict. I don’t like writing tough scenes. Writing the suicide-attempt scenes in Two Hundred Steps Home made me unbelievably miserable. But somehow, Snyder’s book created this tense, conflict-driven storyline. And now I’m too afraid to write it.

I get very affected by what I write. I remember being horrible to my husband when writing about Daniel in Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes. I go out of my way to avoid arguments and upheaval. Just being around my constantly-squabbling children at the moment is exhausting. So why would I write a book about horrible things?

Because it should be a good book, that’s why. Moving out my comfort zone, upping the conflict, should make for a page-turner. If I can do it justice and make a character I can root for.

While I haven’t started, all that is wonderful potential. As soon as I begin, I will realise I don’t have the skill to pull it off. Maybe that’s why I’m a pantser at heart: not because I can’t plan, but because I don’t have the self-belief to put a plan into action. Pantsing involves a lot of writing from the subconscious, switching off the critical, analytical part of the brain. Writing to a plan is going to make that so much harder.

But nothing good ever came easy, right? So I’ll plod on. Like losing 30lbs, it has to start one day at a time. One biscuit fewer, one mile more. One paragraph, one card, one page.

My book is called, “It takes courage.”

It certainly does.