Pantsing My Planning

I seem to have a tendency to plan on doing Camp NaNoWriMo during both available summer months, and then only participating in the second month. Last summer it was August, and this summer it will–hopefully–be in July due to calendar changes within the Office of Letters and Light.

But this post isn’t about my inability to follow through on summer noveling marathons, or even the bad timing of said marathons where real life was concerned. This post is about pantsing. Sort of.

As I mentioned in my post “Trying Something New” , I mentioned being bitten by the new idea bug. For months I’ve been obsessed with telling and re-telling parts of this story in my head. I have names and functions and motivations for the necessary characters, and I have two great settings and an awesome beginning. It was my intention to draft as much of this MS as possible during July Camp. Key word being ‘was.’

Between the making of that decision some two or three weeks ago and today, at the end of June with Camp three days away, I’ve been forced to rethink that hasty, inspiration-fueled choice.

You see, I’m a devoted planner. I need at least some semblance of an outline to get anywhere, as well as a handful of possible plot points and some kind of ending to work toward. When I sat down to actually outline about a week ago, I got through about nine chapters of potential materials before realizing two things. One, almost all of it was pointless and led nowhere, and two, that I had no idea what happened next.

That’s right. None. Zip. I can’t remember the last time I’ve walked into a manuscript without a central external and internal conflict, or at the very least AN ENDING. And yet, I didn’t even figure out why I was having so much trouble right away.

When I got tired of staring at my computer screen, I grabbed a packet of lined paper left over from the days of homework, and sat down to see if I couldn’t hand write my way through my writer’s block. Nope. No luck.

Two days ago, utterly brain-dead and fed up, frustrated with the idea that I was going to have to skip my second Nano Camp session of the summer, it hit me that my issue wasn’t block at all. My issue was a complete and utter lack of knowledge.

Without a basic plan for what would happen to the major characters, what they would struggle with, and fight over, and work toward, I couldn’t do anything. Since then, I’ve wondered if the story I’d been mentally writing for myself simply hasn’t translated well to the page, but at the same time I’m not sure I believe it.

What I have isn’t a great story but a great idea. I’m fond of that idea, but its potential just isn’t there yet. It’s a seed that can be grown into an adventure worth telling. Unfortunately, that seed will probably take a lot of watering and sunlight and time before I can do much with it.

So, where does that leave me and Camp Nano? I still intend to participate, but instead of drafting a new project at high speed, I’m going to push myself toward something else that should’ve been finished a long time ago. I’m going to get as much of the rewrite done for Facing the Music as I can. I’m still not a pantser, but I’ve been pantsing the most important piece of all: my choice of project.

Soon enough you all will find out exactly how this rewrite is going to work, as well as what inspired it. But that’s a whole other blog post. 🙂

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Book Review #13: If You Find Me

If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I’d heard about “If You Find Me” well before it was published, and for some reason I never thought to add it to my TBR pile. A couple choice sound bites–an acquaintance review of the ARC, a letter from the author posted to a blog post I read, and a New York Times review (I think)–talked me into giving the story a shot. And how freaking glad am I that I did?

“If You Find Me” was not one of those books that I expected to fall in love with, or blow through in a day(ish) because the protagonist’s voice was so unique. And yet, Emily Murdoch’s review made me do both.

I thought the premise of the novel was pretty niche. While there are an increasing number of YA contemporaries being written about kidnappings, very few of the ones I’ve read have addressed the aftermaths. None have dealt with the added burden that parental kidnapping causes.

Carey and her younger sister Nessa have lived in a camper in a section of Tennessee wilderness for most of Carey’s life. Their meth-addicted mother comes and goes, and when the story opens she has been gone for an unprecedented amount of time. After a letter reaches Carey’s father regarding their location, the girls end up trying to go back to modern life–a difficulty because of Nessa’s silence and Carey’s secrets.

One of the things I usually make no secret about is the fact that I hate novels written in dialect. Most of them make me squirm at worst, or force me to fill in unaccented speech at best. It’s a testament to Murdoch’s writing ability that Carey’s voice rings authentic, that I never felt as though I had to correct her speech patterns or cringed at some of her turns of phrase.

The family dynamics were especially strong, between Carey and her sister, and the two girls and their new family. Carey’s efforts toward overcoming her mistrust of her father and stepsister while growing to understand and love them rang so true. And as an animal lover, I practically melted anytime Nessa’s attachment to the family dog appeared on the page.

Though I had a pretty good guess regarding Carey’s secret and why Nessa doesn’t speak, Murdoch actually managed to prove me at least partially wrong. In some cases the events that drive Carey’s reactions to strangers would’ve felt overdone or melodramatic, but here I thought they worked perfectly.

Having enjoyed this novel so much, I’ll be waiting somewhat patiently for Emily Murdoch’s next book.

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Book Review #12: What We Saw at Night

What We Saw at Night by Jacquelyn Mitchard

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I’m not nearly as much of a mystery lover now as I was when I was younger, but I couldn’t help being drawn to What We Saw at Night. One of the immediate strengths of the book is the apparent randomness of the elements that comprise the story. Parkour, XP, and a possible murder? Color me intrigued.

As a clarification on the premise of the novel, Parkour is a form of martial art that involves leaping off and around tall buildings or other manmade structures. XP is a genetic disease that basically causes a severe allergy to sunlight, forcing its victims to live in the dark. Hence the title.

The characters we follow on their nighttime travails are a group of three similarly afflicted friends. They have a long history, but it’s also painfully apparent that something isn’t right in their world—even before they witness a possible murder.

Though the story and characters are both wonderfully original, I felt that the world-building and plotting were given more attention than the character development, in that they stayed strong throughout the book. I’ve read a handful of mysteries as an adult that I could poke some holes in, and What We Saw at Night was not one of these.

Allie, the protagonist, was painted accurately as a girl who has long used her friends to avoid the stasis of her own life, and must learn to forge on ahead without them. Her connections to her family, and the woman she babysits for, even the two other members of her ‘tribe’ who at times treat her badly, were what made the story worth reading.

I loved her to death—not only because she was likeable, but because her actions never felt implausible. Both Rob and Juliet, her friends with XP, suffered from a lack of believability at times—Rob near the beginning and Juliet at the end. Usually I care far more about the questions left unanswered with plot, but since the author has plans for a sequel, the character mysteries were far more irksome to me after some reflection.

That being said, had I not been aware of a sequel when starting the story, the ending would have ad me raging for days. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the first in a series pull off that big of a cliffhanger, and I’ve read a ton of series. The excerpt at the back of the book had me fooled into thinking there were more pages than I’d assumed, and when I came to the end I was furious.

Even though I was bothered by some of the characters at times, I’ll definitely be picking up the sequel. And if you have an interest in murder mystery plots that don’t feel tired or rehashed, then you should give What We Saw at Night a shot.

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Trying Something New

Don’t worry. This post isn’t about how I’ve found a new hobby or am giving writing a break. I am working a new job, at least temporarily, while I look for more permanent work. Weirdly enough, being super busy instead of having all the time in the world has given my writing mojo a major boost. (I know. I don’t understand it either.)

In the last month or so, I’ve had the outside eyes of my new critique group reading Positively Anonymous chapter by chapter, and begun doing a basic outline for the rewrite of Facing the Music. I’ve even finished the chapter I’d been stuck on forever with the latter story, and added two new ones. I was starting to get my grasp on Evan’s voice back after a too long hiatus.

And yet . . . this other idea I’d been daydreaming about for two months or more wouldn’t leave me alone.

Let me interrupt myself briefly and say that–while I usually work on multiple things at once–it has been a long time since I’ve even attempted to write two different projects or edit two different projects. Lately, my trend has been to edit one thing and write one thing, so I can switch if I need to.

Usually, that’s a productive method. But if there’s one thing this year has taught me writing-wise, it’s that shaking up my processes can be helpful sometimes. More importantly, I was called to this story. I spent so many of my waking moments thinking about it that I thought I would go nuts if I couldn’t put something on paper.

Not that I completely threw caution to the winds. On my breaks from work, I would sit and jot down ideas on my massive notepad. Character descriptions, ages, jobs, plot points all wound up on the pages. At night, I would search baby name websites looking for the perfect names for the characters still lacking them, and every day I would come up with new material.

About two weeks ago, I dragged the notepad home and transferred all that information to a word document, along with some newer things I hadn’t had a chance to write down. I threw together an outline for the first five chapters that started off sparse and gradually grew more detailed. The next day I started to write.

What I’d been afraid to hope for happened. The story flowed. I’d daydream about it when work was slow, come home, and put more on paper. Time constraints and a busy Memorial Day mean I don’t have as much written as I’d like, but for the first time in a while I’m in love. I’m excited, and I anticipate every spare moment I can spend at my computer.

Since you guys are probably wondering what this mysterious manuscript involves, I’ll give you some basic information. It’s a New Adult contemporary told from the alternating POVs of two sisters. It’s the first thing I’ve written where romance is one of the major plot drivers. There’s family drama, mental illness, a wedding, and a huge number of secrets.

Assuming the project continues to excite me, I’ll continue to update you guys about it. I can’t wait to get a first draft on the table!