Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Great Shadow of Zehth Plot Rethink

I've mentioned before that I'm an organic writer, and I've described a bit of what that's like. And although things sounded pretty darn up in that post, I'm going to chat about the dark side today. Before Lee Goldberg can say "You should've outlined," though, I'd like to point out that I was writing to an outline of a fashion. I knew where my acts ended and had a few highlights of what was going to happen along the way, along with a story arc, some character arcs, and even a friggin' series arc. Granted, it was all done in a rather chaotic brainstorm map (hey, it's how I think when it comes to fiction), and I didn't really refer to said outlining materials but once every other month or even less. The reason that I looked at the quasi-outline rarely can be described quite well with this post by Jennifer Crusie.

My last disclaimer is that I ignored the niggling concerns about silly things like a logical plot and smart characters because I thought Muse was trying to trick me into rewriting the first 20-30K words over and over again in an endless pursuit of perfection. I wasn't going to let her fool me, though. I was going to keep going and finish this draft, though I did nod to the concerns and duly note them along with my ideas for addressing them in my "to be revised" mindmap.

During the fallout from my writing computer meltdown, I started thinking a lot about change and shakeups and what made the most sense to deal with yet another unexpected kink in my already far from usual writing circumstances of late. At the time that all of that was bumbling around in my brain, I was working through Holly Lisle's Create a Language Clinic (and really pondering the statement she makes that "a language is the soul of its people), and I was listening to Loreena McKennitt's new album. A lot. Particularly "Caravanserai" and "Kecharitomene." Things clicked.

Basically, to continue the map metaphor, I realized that I was writing the equivalent of the "Look, kids! There's Big Ben! Parliament!" scene from National Lampoon's European Adventure.

But I figured out how to kick myself out of the loop and actually write this great story that's been bumping around in my head. And I learned that, although I will always be an organic writer and will "feel" my way through a project, I can be a lot smarter about the kernels of the story I keep with me as I go. Particularly when a question starts to niggle away at me, I know what other questions to ask to put the original niggle in its proper frame of reference and more accurately decide if it's a delaying tactic or a valid critique.

That's the good news. And, yes, there is bad news.

The bad news is that I now have to go back to Ye Olde Beginning and start from word 1. See that word count over on the side bar? Yeah, the one that says +80K words in Shadow of Zehth? I have to go back through those 80,000 words, primarily writing new scenes from scratch and seeing where I can graft in some of those 80K words. This is a year and a half after I began draft creation for this book. It's not as bad as I had first thought when I figured out what I needed to do. In cobbling together a very high-level outline for the rethought plot, I figured out that a lot of the scenes will stay, though in altered form.

Still. Ouch.

In the wake of this massive plot (and character) rethink, I have been brutal with myself to make sure I can verbalize what the problem was and how I can prevent it for future novels. This is what I came up with.

As an organic writer, it is absolutely vital that I continually refer back to the meager amount of outlining, mapping, and arcing that I do before I write a scene. This is to keep fresh in my mind what the central conflict and character motivations are every step of the way to minimize wandering far off track or getting stuck in ruts and loops. Otherwise I go where the Muse tosses me, which may be interesting and fun but may not be the best thing for the whole of the novel. Also, this seems to be a good way for me to filter all of the backstory and subplots to distill the information that the reader needs each step of the way. It also gives me a better sense of control over the whole process, or, rather, the illusion of control, as I will be writing the novel from a birds-eye view vantage point instead of a character's view. I'll be better able to see the ruts and extreme tangential wanderings before I get too lost in them.

So that's my Joy of Writing story for the year. Hopefully next year's won't require a drastic revision of 80,000 words.

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