Welcome to the blog of science fiction author Eileen Rhoadarmer--where science fiction and Mommyhood collide!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cracking Open a Story

For the month of March (on the days that I've written) I've been working on one story almost exclusively. In fact, I started working on this story in mid-February. This is unusual, as I normally can get a story written (or rewritten) much more quickly. What's the hold-up? Well, the answer is partly that it's a long story (over 11,000 words, quite firmly into the "novelette" category,) but mostly that it is a hard one to crack open.

You see, this story is a mystery story--which is outside of my usual genre, and it's been both fun and difficult to work out.  I wrote it quite a while ago, and it is one of the many stories that I never got back to after I got pregnant.  I finally decided that it was time to re-work it, and the major bit of criticism I'd gotten was that its plot was too linear, and there really weren't any other viable suspects, so it was easy to figure out who the murderer was.  Clearly, I needed to add more misdirection.

I decided I needed to add an entirely new character to the story in addition to throwing suspicion on some existing characters.  It proved to be a monumental task.

As this was an already complete story, it took quite a bit of work for me to figure out how to add my new character into the existing framework--even after I finally figured out who the new character was and why he was suspicious.  I wrote out an outline of the story and figured out where my new character needed to be added, but ultimately I just had to pick a scene and force myself to start writing.

I had several false starts before it finally "took," but once I finally cracked the story open, the rest of it was easier.  I forced the new character in (with a wedge, it felt like,) but once he was inside, I was able to modify the rest of the scenes to fit the first modifications.  It did take a while, especially since there were many other elements that needed rewriting along the way, and I'm still not technically finished.  I haven't read the whole thing as a complete unit yet, and I know it still needs a few tweaks--but I ought to be able to do that over the next few days.  After that I shall let it "marinade" for about a month (to steal the words of a friend of mine) before checking back with fresh eyes.

This process addressed one problem I need to work on, in general:  I tend to overanalyze what I'm writing while I'm doing it.  I edit in my head, sometimes before the sentence is completely on the page, and I frequently go back to change things that I realize need editing before I have anything remotely resembling a first draft.  Because of this, by the time I have a complete draft, I tend to think of it as my second draft.  And this works sometimes--but often it's also the reason that I get stuck.

Something I've had a little success with recently (very recently, I've only started doing it during the last six months or so) is something I call "barfing on the page."  I do this when I can't figure out how to get started, so I force myself to stop thinking and just start writing.  I don't let myself go back and make changes.  If I think of a better way to do it, I just start over where I am.  I'll write down the same sentence in four different ways and remind myself that I can choose the best one while editing.  (I tend to write too much in the first draft anyway, so why not add even more to cut out?)  I approach the same scene from three different angles, change directions if it's not working, and keep going when I get inspired.  I try not to worry about errors or typos (well, the typos I can't really help myself, I have to correct them.)  The idea is to just make myself write as much as I can, as fast as I can, in order to get myself moving.  Usually, something good comes of it in the end.

I had to barf on the page in order to crack open my mystery story.  And to get started on the previous rewrite.  This is something I think I need to do more of, since it's very freeing, and I likely will do so on future projects.

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