I’ve been writing a long time, and I’ve tried a lot of different methods in search of the “perfect” combination. I’ve plotted mysteries using a calendar to keep track of the pacing of the book. I’ve used different colored markers for different characters to see if I was getting the balance right. I’ve spent a lot of time analyzing my antagonist so that I had a worthy adversary for my protagonist. And each method had its good points and its bad.
Now, I keep it simple. Before I write, I know the inciting incident, the set-up, two plot twists, and the story’s end. I know what I want to happen, when. The rest, I leave to my characters. Most of the time, that’s enough. But I finished an Ally/Dante novella at the end of November, and I fought that story every inch of the way. Nothing in that story cooperated. When I finally got it done, I felt like I’d survived a wrestling match, and I had the bruises to prove it.
I worried when I started a new, longer Babet/Prosper novella, thinking maybe the planets and Muses weren’t aligned for inspiration. I wanted to get it mostly finished before the boys were out of school for Christmas break, but this time, the words flew. Just like before, I had enough plot points, but they were stretched between more pages. No problem. This time, ideas popped up as I went. One scene inspired the next.
Today, the boys went out with friends, so I started plotting a new novel I want to start in January, and I couldn’t type fast enough. True, I’d let that novel “stew” for over a month while I wrote the novellas. I’d written notes and jotted down ideas for scenes, so the book was waiting to burst out and get the attention it thought it deserved. But I’d thought about the Ally/Dante story before I started it, too. So what made the difference? The sorry truth is, books are sort of like kids. You can love them and guide them, but each one is different.
I went to a mystery writers’ conference once and Mary Higgins Clark was the featured speaker. I’ll never forget it. Someone in the audience asked her, “When did writing get easy for you?” And she said, “If you really care about your writing, it never does.” And she went on to explain that she didn’t think she’d even be able to finish the novel she was working on at that time, she was having so many problems with it, until her daughter brainstormed with her, and she finally saw how to get from Point A to Point B. That was an eye opening moment for me. I’d always thought that someday, I’d master each and every ingredient of writing, and I’d know how to make each story its best. But that just isn’t so.
Stories that look like they’ll be simple to write, aren’t. Stories I fuss over, flow. And it doesn’t matter if I write outlines or wing it more than usual. No two stories ever work the same. I was on a panel with Shirley Jump once, and she said that she’d tried to “always make things worse” for her protagonist and had written herself into a corner where she had no idea how to fix things for a happy ending. So, she put on her running shoes and trusted her brain to figure it out. Which it did. And that’s the thing. Writing pushes us to grow, to strive to make scenes and characters come to life. And it keeps us humble:)
P.S. I played with my website a little, hopefully made it better. http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/