Wednesday, August 29, 2007

ON TAKING AN IDEA FROM THE BACK OF THE SHELF

Picture it:

The car is coming up the icy road. The driver is anxious. He's just found out he can expect the bad guys any moment, he has to get back to his house. He comes up the hill, his right leg throbbing from a former gunshot wound.

Oh, wait. I would really like him to ride the horse for the exit scene. In the snow with the misguided heroine clinging to his waist, bad guys chasing in a car -- not bad, huh?

How do I get rid of the car? For that matter, even if I do get rid of the car, what about his truck? It's still up there. He can use that to get away. Okay, say goodbye to the horse, hello to the truck. Ditch the car. Too ordinary.

Hey, maybe I should have the sheriff tow away the car. That gets rid of one vehicle. Wait, what about the folder in the trunk, the folder all about him? No, the sheriff wouldn't tow the car so quickly, the car has to stay. I'll decide what to do about the folder later.

Back to the hill. He's coming up the hill. He'll find his truck gone. The tied up heroine took the truck and fled. (Smart girl, but misguided as mentioned earlier…) Not bad. It means he has to turn around and go back down the hill and chase the heroine and his truck to a standoff somewhere down in town. Maybe her motel. He knows where's it at, the information is in her car which he is driving up this terribly long driveway. Okay, the truck is gone.

I don't know. I don't think I like that.

Hello! What if the truck is barreling down the driveway at the same moment he is racing up the driveway? Kaboom! Two disabled vehicles! We're back to the horse? Yea!!!!

Okay, so that is one hour in my head condensed so as not to make anyone sick. One little scene, one little hour, one little set up, hopefully a surprise for the reader, certainly came as a surprise for me. I know all of you go through this kind of thing over and over again, so this blog is about celebrating the tortuous gymnastics we put our brains through as we merrily type away. Thank Eli for mentioning torture and writing in the same sentence. It never would have occurred to me…
But what does occur to me is that writing this way is fun.

I had an agent for about fifteen minutes a few years ago. She said, "Tell me what you do to write a proposal." I said, "Well, I write a chapter or two to get the feel of the characters and understand the story and see if I think it can go anywhere and then I--"

She threw up her hands. Actually, she was in New York at the time and I was here on the other end of the phone, so I imagine the hand throwing thing. She said, "That's a waste of time. That's devoting time to an idea that may never fly. You can't do that. Don't write any pages, just write a synopsis or an outline and sell on that."

Which explains why she and I soon parted company. The truth is, I can write a synopsis without writing a single page of the book. I can sell it. But Lordy, the trade off, because eventually it has to be written and without that first fifty pages and the knowledge that comes from it, an idea has to be developed into meaningful story in twelve weeks. Ack!

If that sounds attractive to you, I'd wager you've either never done it or are a better writer than me. Because writing something you've not approached on any level except some intellectual "What if," thing is extremely daunting -- remember, you are under a deadline. There is a contract and money involved. The clock is ticking…ticking…ticking…

Nope, let me spend at least a few days charging up the hill. Is the heroine afraid? Dead? Angry? I don't know, but I wager since this is only page 25, her reaction is going to weigh heavy on the book to come and I need to know.

I am going to approach the current WIP in the following way. When something is about to happen, I am going to do my best to discard the first one or two or three ideas that pop into my head. I'm going to stretch for the one that's just a little further out of reach and hope my subconscious got there before me and loaded that idea with possibilities. I am going to remember that this experience -- the writing, the plotting and ultimately, the reading -- needs to be FUN.

How about you?

14 comments:

Lisa Pulliam said...

That was fun to read, Alice!! I now have a better idea of what it's like to be in your head. It sounds dangerous, I think I'd get hurt! All those cars and crashes and chases and police! Eeek!

Sounds like a good thing that you parted company with that agent. Seems to me that an agent should support whatever process a writer chooses to produce his or her best work. And if you want to write a couple chapters to get a feel for a book and see if it's even worth going for, then that's what you should do!

I don't know what my process is, I just need to stick to an idea and finish it lol. Great post!

Joan Swan said...

Jeez...FUN? I think somewhere along the way I've forgotten all about the fun part.

Your topic comes at an interesting time, as I'm at about page 80 of a new WIP that I'm writing much differently than my previous mss, and I think--think--I'm having more fun.

Also, I just blogged on the topic of Process over at Romance Worth Killing For where Eli also blogs.

Hope you'll drop in and share, pop in a link to your post. :-)

Paty Jager said...

Wow! You sure do like to maim people! LOL Or put them through torture!

The WIP I'm working on which I haven't even opened a document yet to start- has been brewing in my head. The characters, the running uphill, the crash. It's all percolating in my brain. I have a page with the characters mapped out and a page with scenarios that may happen in the book, and I have a scrap of paper where I jotted down the first paragraph or two, but I'm still working on the whole thing in my head.

This is my process. Percolating ideas and then when I write, they explode onto the page.

I had two people at the local writing meeting talk about how they got so disheartened that they would write 3-5 chapters and realize NOW the book was starting. That they wasted all that time writing those chapters to find they were finally getting into the book. I assured them discovering their characters was just as important as the starting point in the book. Some people feel those chapters are a waste, but if they help them discover their characters- is it truly a waste?

Great blog, Alice!

Alice Sharpe said...

Lisa -- You're right, we all have our own processes and that agent shouldn't have tried to mess with mine. I showed her. I let her get totally aggravated with me until she was glad I quit. Ha, ha, ha, evil plan!

I agree, the first step is to stick wit a plot. Everything else is secondary!

Alice Sharpe said...

Joan -- Hey, nice to have a new voice and face on the blog! Welcome.

I, too, have sometimes forgotten about the FUN part. But it's there and we need to keep it in mind so that we can live through the many unfun parts.

I'll check out the site you mentioned after I go back and finish writing out the backstory my husband just helped me develop. It sure helps to take a circular idea out of your head and get it in the open with another person acting as a sounding board and offering ideas. I've had to learn to never cast an idea away unexamined -- there are sometimes gems lurking in the most idle comment.

Alice Sharpe said...

Paty -- I do like to maim people. Now he's limping and she's bleeding and it's only page 25. Stock up on bandages, folks!

I percolate, too, but I have found in the last year or two as the ideas and backstories grow increasingly complicated I need to also write things out, I can't keep it straight in what passes for a brain now-a-days.

I am so glad you informed the people at your local writing meeting the value of those "wasted" 3-5 chapters. Wasted! My goodness. Nothing is wasted as you pointed out. Finding a starting point is sometimes a challenge and always worth the effort. Without the right starting point and the characters to back it up, who ever gets to the story? (I wonder how it would appear if we put the following disclaimer on our books: Keep reading folks, things get really interesting around about page fifteen.)

Karen Duvall said...

Brain gymnastics! I love it, Alice! I'm going to remember that term, which is so apropo.

I do a lot of brain gymnastic plotting prior to setting down the first word. It's really hard for me to resist using the first idea, though. However, I've learned that thinking it through some more will yield the best results so I'm practicing "holding out" until I've steeped the scene to a rich, dark brew of *that's it!*

I agree with you that no words are really wasted. I'm a true believer in recycling. 8^)

Alice Sharpe said...

Karen -- I like "the dark brew of that's it." Brilliant!

Paty Jager said...

(I wonder how it would appear if we put the following disclaimer on our books: Keep reading folks, things get really interesting around about page fifteen.)

Oh Alice! I've had partial submissions to TWRP that I've rejected and they say, "OH, but it gets better!" ROFL

Alice Sharpe said...

Paty --- ROTFLMAO. Really? I can't believe that!

Barbara said...

"...an idea has to be developed into meaningful story in twelve weeks. Ack!" Oh my goodness, Alice! Are you really under contract to produce a novel-length story in 12 weeks? No wonder the clock is ticking...ticking...ticking. I could never write under that kind of pressure.

Your process sounds a lot like the brainstorming Jim and I do together all going on in your one brain. I agree, "It sure helps to take a circular idea out of your head and get it in the open with another person acting as a sounding board and offering ideas."

When I'm working alone, my process is more like Paty's. I've got the percolating ideas part down, but I have yet to have my writing explode onto the page. I hope I'll get there someday.

Piper Lee said...

Alice said... "I'm going to stretch for the one that's just a little further out of reach and hope my subconscious got there before me and loaded that idea with possibilities."

I love this Alice! You're so smart!

Genene said...

Alice, thank you for a peak inside your creative process. I really enjoyed it. How do I approach a project? How about anal-retentive plotting?

OK, before I get to that stage, I usually have a blip of conversation or a glimpse of someone doing something questionable (like loading something -- what is it -- into a trunk), lots of scribbled notes about the hero and heroine, possible secondary characters, scenes that may tumble out of my head and onto paper ... then comes the plotting part!

Now I have to follow this terrific post with another blog topic!

Elisabeth Naughton said...

I love this post. I linked it on my blog for the whole world to see. It's so fun to get an insider's view of different writing processes. :)