Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Slow Down The Pace

© Marta Stephens 2011 all rights reserved

I’ve recently discovered the beauty and the very liberating feeling of not writing my chapters in sequence. Granted, some chapters in my WIFP (work in forever progress), GRAVE WITNESS, were written in 2004, while others were penned 2005 and several more were created between 2006 and 2009. As you might have guessed, this novel has been a challenge. Everyone has one of these, right? Sadly, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get the darn thing off the starting block.

Do you ever feel that you’re trying too hard and writing it for all the wrong reasons? I believe that's what happened to me. That little voice in my head kept saying, “… two books in print. What’s wrong with you? Get it done already!”

Oh, please! All that pressure did was dry up the creative juices.

I gave up on the book again in the summer of 2009. I shoved it aside and hadn’t read it again until about a month and a half ago. It’s no surprise that my long respite has allowed me to read this novel now with a clear mind and a fresh pair of eyes, almost as if it had been written by someone else and I’m doing the edits. Try doing that next time you want to detach yourself from your oh so lovely words.

After cutting major scenes and characters from the book, to my surprise (a big surprise at that) I found that several of the chapters are salvageable. I found this hiding in chapter 40, a chapter I’d planned to cut. In this scene Harper walks into a bar to meet with a woman who claims to have information on his case:

“He turned toward the familiar crisp, crackling sound of a cue ball kissing another coming from the adjacent room. Jones had her sight on the set up. She chalked the tip of the cue then leaned in for an angle shot of the number seven. She aimed, and to no one's surprise, sunk it into the right-middle pocket.

The redhead with killer green eyes and legs some men only stroke in their dreams was a cinch to spot in a crowd. But here, in this dingy, back-alley joint where a blade to the back was easier to come by than dreams, she was nothing short of a God-given anomaly. The roomful of men were focused on her, acting like dogs tied on a short leash in the sweltering sun with nothing to swallow but their own hot spit.”

Okay, so it needs edits, but when you're drowning and think all is lost you grab the first piece of driftwood that comes your way and cling to it. I quickly began to rethink the plot again which consequently resulted in the writing of several new back stories. The questions were; how can I use this information/chapter/scene, will this character or that character be a villain or good guy, does this scene move the plot? Will the story suffer it I take this section out? Who in this story has the most to lose? The questions were endless.

With a good portion of chapters in place (over 40,000 words worth), I outlined the new sections and merged them in with the new. The planning process took a couple of weeks and when I was done, I ended up with 48 completely outlined chapters. I know how this story begins, exactly how it will end and have a clear understanding of every plot point, twist, and turn in between. I LOVE it!!

Here’s the best part. Having completed this outline, I can now write the chapters as they come to me. For example, chapters 1-12 are all new or will be as soon as I write them, but if I feel chapter 30 developing ahead of time, what of it? I can write it first without fear that it won’t fit in the sequence of things because unlike all the previous drafts, I know what happens before it, what action chapter 30 needs to contain, and how its outcome will affect subsequent chapters.

Trust me, this makes for a very relaxing experience. Will this book be easier to write than the others? Probably not, but I’m going to enjoy the ride a good deal more.

About the author:

Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense. She is currently working on the third book in her Sam Harper Crime Mystery series. Her books are available in paperback and e-book and Kindle formats.

THE DEVIL CAN WAIT (2008), Bronze Medal Finalist, 2009 IPPY Awards, Top Ten, 2008 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery).
ISBN: 978-1-905202-886-7
Tradebook: $15.99
E-book: $9.00

SILENCED CRY (2007) Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book Festival, Top Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery).
ISBN: 798-1-905202-72-0
Tradebook: $15.50

E-book: $9.00


Anonymous said...

Good post, Marta. Nice to see that I am not the only one. I find myself skipping around just to go on to something fresh. I know this goes against everything I have read, but it seems I spend way too much time on syntax and grammar, kind of an exaggerated Hemmingway method. I need to just get er' done.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Hi, Marta. Wow, I wish I could be as organized as you. I just can't seem to write a book unless I do it linearly with no planning. I do get stuck on chapters, of course. But until I resolve it, I'm unable to move ahead. Funny how we all have such different techniques. ;o) But you know, it's all about getting the best books out there that we can! Loved your excerpt, by the way. Loved it when I read it a while ago, love it now. ;o)

Kim Smith said...

I agree with Aaron. We all have magnificient styles and all differ, but that's what makes being a writer so cool. No two alike!