Writing the ‘wrong” way to find the right story

I’m sure that for many of you writers this is not a difficulty.
Perhaps you are masters of the detailed outline.
Perhaps the whole book appears to you in a wonderfully clear dream.
Perhaps you are one of those people who annoy me (but I am secretly envious of).
I outline, and I make notes but it doesn’t seem to matter.
With every one of my books except for Ashes,Ashes which emerged, whole and fully-developed, from the foam of my head like Venus, I have discovered at some point that I have grabbed hold of the wrong end of the stick (Shtick).
Usually it’s because I am holding something back.
I would say that my main weakness as a writer is that I am averse to having a whole bunch of action (or emotional hoopla or tumult) happen right off the bat. I build up to that point which is all well and good but is basically me as writer just warming up. As a reader I’d be nodding off after twenty pages.
I need to remind myself (and hopefully this post will cement it into my noggin) not to be afraid to jump in immediately. Not to be afraid to start off with a bang.
It’s not as if I’m going to run out of exciting scenarios. In fact, my job is to get my protagonist into as many difficult situations as possible whether they be physical, emotional or psychological or all three at once.
The majority of stories are about growth and that could be succeeding in the face of danger or coming to terms with loss or falling in love with the wrong guy and then the right girl or whatever.
There’s a lot of scrambling around in the dark when I write. And sure I have an outline. I even started with an outline this time, though it wasn’t very detailed. Then something my agent said to me rocked my composure and (after sobbing into my dog) I sucked it up and developed a full chapter breakdown and discovered that nothing was really happening for the first few chapters. Things didn’t get exciting until about page 70 and then they rocketed to a thrilling conclusion which would have left the reader pissed off that the book ended. Not something a writer should strive for (pissing off the reader).
So I decided to move the penultimate chapter to the end of the first third of the book, and squeeze the events of the first 100 pages in there as well. Oh, and chop off maybe 3 chapters.
And now I am excited because I know better what I am trying to achieve. And all these questions that moving things around brings up, have fired my imagination.
I’m lucky to have an agent who acts like a beta reader because he always asks me the difficult questions and forces me to face things I have been steadfastly ignoring and he expects the best from me always.
He expects me to be excellent and deliver good books but not necessarily on the first go(which is a relief).
I could do without quite so much of the bumbling and fumbling about though.
So rather than do it the long, arduous way before the lightning bulb clicks on, I am going to throw everything I can at my girl, and I’m going to see how she reacts and by the time I’m done I’m going to know how she deals with it all.

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8 Responses to Writing the ‘wrong” way to find the right story

  1. Emma Newman says:

    Don't be hard on yourself, that's what first drafts are for, right? I understand totally the need to get warmed up, and sometimes it happens on a chapter level too and the first two paragraphs or so need to be chopped.

    I'd like to speak up for bumbling and fumbling. After all, some of the most exciting things can happen during fumbling in the dark, right?

  2. Jo Treggiari says:

    great comment Emma! Thanks,
    I'm not hard on myself usually but this time I'd written over 100 pages before I stopped, paused and reflected.

  3. Donna Hosie says:

    Emma has it spot on. Drafts are just drafts. The great thing about the written word is that until it is actually printed, it can be changed.

  4. Jo Treggiari says:

    Thanks for commenting Donna, and how are you?

    I agree that drafts are just drafts and first drafts usually suck gloriously but I have an editor waiting for my first draft this time around and it cannot suck. I am finding that I really need to nail all the things editors look for- arcs and drivers and character journeys- right off the bat.

  5. Jill Kemerer says:

    Uggh! I had that last week. I'd gotten to the mid-point and just stopped. The outline of the next several chapters would not work. I had to spend time brainstorming and jotting down ideas before I could move on.

  6. Jo Treggiari says:

    Sorry to hear that Jill. When that happens to me it's usually because my subconscious (unconscious? :)) is letting me know that the story isn't working. But that's ok because my only real job is to tell it, whatever it takes.
    It does knock the wind out of your sails though.
    Sounds like you found a way to continue.

  7. Jo, I'm glad you have a dog to sob into. So do I – a big, solid, comforting dog who licks my ears. Every writer should have one. We need them!

  8. Jo Treggiari says:

    Absolutely, Kath. She is my fur blanket.