[Herewith, the third guest post from a writer friend, all of whom do this a lot better than I. Makes me think I should rent this space out. You’ll see the potential wisdom of that once you’ve absorbed this charming post from Doris Reidy, whose new novel, Every Last Stitch will be available in a matter of days. Remember her name; you’ll want to read every word she’s willing to share!]
Does it really get easier, as my writing teacher, Josh, promises? Will books three, four, and more, trip merrily from my keyboard, now that two novels are finished and I’ve gained some experience?
Well, I’ve learned some things. I’m still a “pantser,” one who writes by the seat of her pants, forsaking outlines to wander down any attractive lane. But I now write in sequence. It was tempting, when I first began, to write scenes or character sketches in no particular order. I could indulge whatever was simmering on my brain’s front burner, planning blithely that I’d do all the weaving together at some point in the future. I thought I’d remember all the plot twists and turns that came to me at three a.m. I thought, for that matter, that I’d remember my characters’ names and traits. Guess what: I didn’t. They changed their names and hair color between Chapter One and Chapter Twenty-Two. Things happened that altered them, so good guys went bad, and new people cropped up in unexpected ways. Spackling it all together at the end was pure torture. I’ve learned to tell my story linearly, to keep a running chapter synopsis, and a description of characters, including their full names, ages and descriptions.
Then there’s plotting. And pacing. And verisimilitude. Syntax and punctuation and dialog. Adverbs and adjectives and stative verbs. That dodgy old shape-shifter, point of view. All traps for the unwary that snag me time after time. The idea that first comes to me wears only lovely bones. Somehow, I have to put flesh on those bones and make you want to keep reading.
How much flesh is just right? I write short. I’ve pretty much said all I have to say in 50,000 or so words. My first readers constantly yank my arm and say, “More here.” “Expand this.” “What happened next?” This is especially apt to happen when my writing horse smells the hay in the barn marked “The End,” and races headlong toward it. (Did I mention the terrifying tug of tempting metaphors?)
And that brings me to my darlings. How it hurts to kill my darlings! And yet, they must die: the plot twist that ultimately goes nowhere; the phrase that makes me smile smugly at my own brilliance; the character I thought would carry the story, but who turns out to have jelly-legs. They gotta go. Usually, somebody has to tell me to kill them, but as I continue writing, I can sometimes see it for myself. That’s progress, painful as it is.
Why do it, then? What makes it worthwhile to sit alone in a room staring at a computer screen, trying to hammer out a page or two? Writers, by definition, must have healthy egos. I need to believe that I have something worthy to share, and that you will be interested. Maybe you’ll even say something nice about it! (See “ego” above.) Or maybe, at heart, it’s the same instinct that made some prehistoric human mix up a batch of paint for the cave wall. I want to tell you a story, a story about what I see and hear and think. I want to engage you, because then we connect. And connection, not the Hokey-Pokey, is really what it’s all about.
[Here’s a sneak peek at the cover of Doris’ new book, Every Last Stitch. As soon as her editor quits foolin’ around and finishes the last few fixes, you’ll be able to grab a copy. The signed ones are the best; drop me a line if you’d like to get in touch with Doris so she can arrange to send you one.]