I start with some great opening line that entered my head, or a phrase too good to ignore, or a personality I just have to explore, and I sit on down to Mr. Puter and start tapping away at the keyboard. More often than not, I have no clue as to what’s going to happen.
Many writers can plot and plan, outline and scheme. They have biographies on main characters, minor characters, great aunt Lily’s first beau’s second wife. Backstories down to a T. They know their theme, the message they want to present and how they want to present it. They know, before they write page one, what will happen on page one hundred twenty-three-and-a-half. I even heard of one author that strings along butcher paper all across her office with each peak and valley of the plotline diagrammed.
I, on the other hand, am inherently lazy. That’s too much work.
I type what I have in mind at the moment it hits (unless I’m not near my computer; then I grab any ol’ piece of paper I can find). I continue writing until my muse slumps, breathless, exhausted, and unable to continue. Then I reread what I wrote. Sometimes I can see what’s happening and who my characters are, sometimes not. But I clamp onto what’s revealed to me with superglue and build on it when my muse has rested.
As I mentioned in another post, the idea for The Cat Lady of Forest Lawn came from the heavenly blue. I’d put this under the category of “personality I just have to explore.” After writing her opening scene (partially posted under the “WIP” tab), I realized I would need a stabilizer to offset her flamboyant personality. That’s where Evelyn comes in. It took me roughly fifty pages to get to know Evelyn. And that’s where pre-planners have their advantage. They don’t have to go back and spruce up a character they’ve written fifty pages about.
But it never fails. Everything clarifies within the first quarter of the book–characters and their backstories, conflicts and motivations; the plot and theme; and, often, the grand finale.
The peaks and valleys, the ebb and flow of the action, however, come one scene at a time. I throw my characters into hot water, rescue their burning hides, then sit and wonder what else to throw them into.
I’ve got a few rules, though, which I’ve listed here in no particular order:
1. Anything and everything that I write has to propel the story forward, or release valuable information, or foreshadow something. In other words, it has to have a point. And I have to admit, being an sotp writer, not everything I put down on Mr. Puter does that. Which is why I have my other friend, Mr. Ax. If what I’ve written doesn’t do a job for the storyline, no matter how beautiful, clever or compelling, it’s gotta go. (Sometimes it goes into a separate file to use some other time in some other book, but it’s still gotta go.)
2. Anything and everything I write has to fit into the confines of what I’ve previously presented. It has to blend in and transition smoothly. Or, if not and there’s a vital reason why not, the shift has to be jarring. That’s what I’ve had to do while shifting from Evelyn’s point of view to Millie’s. Believe me, you always know when you’re in Millie’s point of view.
She glanced up at him in time to see his eyes shift from her to the meadow. The idea that he’d been watching her created a surprising stir of butterflies in her stomach. She swallowed hard to drown them.
Think of anything other than elephants. Try not to picture a purple elephant. No pink and purple elephants should cross your mind. Why would you even want to see pink and purple polka-dotted elephants? Just don’t think about them.
But you did, didn’t you?
Same thing happens to me every time I tell myself not to look down.
3. My most important rule: pay close attention to God’s input.
I’m serious, here. All references to fictitious muses aside, God does pay attention to what you’re putting on the page.
With Give the Lady a Ride, I dropped Patricia into a maze of mixed emotions and conflicting needs. Got her good and lost in the hedgerows. And didn’t know how to get her out.
That’s when I discovered just how closely God watches what I do. I felt a prompting to get my Bible, so I grabbed it and effortlessly found the exact passage that fit. And it wasn’t one that I would’ve thought of. In fact, I couldn’t think of anything that would do the job. Since then, I’ve made it a point to stop what I’m doing and jot down anything that seems heaven-sent.
But, isn’t it amazing? If God cares so much about what happens to Patricia Talbert in the pages of my novel, how much more does He care for us?