Bonfire, anyone?

Most of you know that I’ve been working on a novel that attacked me about six weeks ago. Yes, attacked is the correct verb because that is exactly what it did. At the time, I was almost 50,000 words into a suspense novel I’d been working on — and was late delivering — and had finally figured out what the problem was. Then, during the middle of the night, the stealth novel hit. It’s obvious now, in retrospect, that the plot had been percolating in the back of my mind for awhile. But when it first hit, all I knew was that it came storming into my head and took over.

In the time since I’ve started “seriously” writing — in other words, actually letting my babies go instead of hiding them under the bed — my writing process has been fairly consistent. An idea would come to me, I’d make a few plot notes (usually somewhere between 5 – 10 pages) and I’d sit down and write. The actual writing process consisted of sitting somewhere with my laptop or, when I still used a desktop, pulling out the wireless keyboard and working. Pen and paper were relegated to those times when something would come to me as I worked that I wanted to jot down so I didn’t forget it.

But not this book. Oh, no. This book turned my process upside down. For one thing, it is the closest thing to actually pantsing a novel I’ve done since the days when I was writing and shoving everything under the bed. To be honest, I’d quit being a true pantser long before then. By the time Sarah forced me to show her something I’d written, I’d started the move to what is part pantser and part plotter.

As I said, this book didn’t want to tell me what was going to happen from one chapter to the next. Because of that — and because it required me to write each chapter out longhand before either dictating it into Dragon or transcribing it — I fought this book tooth and nail. Sarah has listened to me whine and bitch and the nicest thing I’ve called it is the dreckish of dreck. Why? Because it wasn’t conforming to the process I was comfortable with and because it wasn’t exactly the sort of story I’ve written before.

But I pushed through. Part of the reason is because the book just wouldn’t leave me alone. Usually when a plot hits me like this I can make a few notes or write a few pages and it will go back to sleep until I have time to get to it. This one wouldn’t. It took all my other projects hostage, tied them up, gagged them and locked them in the basement. Whenever I balked at finishing, it threatened to take one of my other projects and drop it down a deep, dark well.

So I kept at it and I finished the novel the end of last week. I put it aside for several days and gave my head time to come up for air. I worked in the yard, did some work around the house and some much needed work on an author event our friends of the library group is hosting this Saturday.

And I discovered this book continues to break the rules I’d become comfortable with.

Morbid curiosity had me breaking my first rule of editing. I never, ever look at something I’ve written unless there is at least a week in between finishing writing and when I print the pages out. My preference is to let the novel sit for a month. That gives me the mental space I need to look at what I’ve written with fresh eyes and that, in turn, lets me see what is on the page and not what I think is on the page. I’ve found this has helped me realize when information is only in my head and not on the page for the reader. It also helps me see technical problems that need to be fixed.

But, staying true to form, this book poked and prodded at me enough yesterday morning that I converted it and put it on my kindle. Okay, I’ll admit it, I also printed it out, but those pages are pretty much untouched so far. I can’t say the same for the kindle version of the rough draft.

What I discovered has been interesting. It didn’t take long to realize I’d dropped two cookie crumbs that help explain the main character’s motivation. The problem is that I didn’t pick them up later. So I’ve made notes about where to go back in and correct that problem. I might not have left Johnny hanging off the cliff at the end of chapter 3, but these little bits will make the main character’s motivations more understandable. I also have another character’s father being dead at the beginning of the book. Later, he and the character’s mother are in Ireland and later still they are in Florida. So, either the mother travels a lot and carries hubby’s ashes — or body — with her or dear old Dad is a zombie. While either explanation would fit another book that has been on the back burner for awhile, it doesn’t fit this one. So, I’ve made a note to go in and fix that as well. Of course, there are also the inevitable comma faults and misspellings to correct, but that is part of my life.

Those problems aside — and they are typical of what a lot of pantsers encounter on the first edit pass — the book doesn’t suck. Mind you, I’m my own worst critic and I know it. So this feeling that what I’ve written, and fought at every step along the way, isn’t horrible is new. It is also scary. I can’t help wondering if I’m just deluding myself and this book is the worst thing I’ve ever done. There is the very real desire to shove the book under the bed — or, better yet, to use it as fuel for a bonfire — and never let it see the light of day. But I won’t, at least not yet. I’ll send it off to my beta readers after I finish the first edits. It will be up to them to tell me if it is a cabbage or a worse.

But before I do that, I have to finish the edits and I will be adding the first chapter or two to another book at the end. I can hear you guys asking why I’m doing that when I’m seriously considering burning the manuscript. The answer is multi-fold. When I write, even if I’m on the first draft of something, I tend to put it into a format as close to conversion ready as possible. If I’m OCD about anything, it’s that. For another, if the betas like the novel I’m sending them, I want to know if they’d: 1) read the sample chapters, 2) if the sample chapters are interesting enough or intriguing enough that they’d go looking for the book they are excerpted from, and 3) if the answer to the first two is “yes”, then it will make me have to finish the book the chapters are excerpted from.

And, yes, the real reason is that this latest novel has informed me it is the first of a series and I’m hoping that by writing the opening chapter or two of the next book, it will behave better than this particular book has and will let me finish the project that was interrupted. No, I’m not holding my breath, but I am hoping.

17 comments

    1. Welcome to my world, Sanford. I have to live with the crazies in my head. The only way to do so is to inflict them on the rest of you. (VBEG)

    2. Er… You do know that here in Japan, someone carrying around the ashes of their dead relative is not that unusual? Or often a memorial picture or other keepsake, which they may talk to. So having dead relatives accompanying the individual is not especially worthy of note?

      1. You are an evil man. It is bad enough I have the half-finished novella where the family members pass but don’t pass on. Now you have just added a new foible to another character in another book. Not only does she go jogging through town in her hot pink polyester running suit — and she is not only the crazy cat lady in town but also the crazy aunt to the m/c — now she is going to take her husband (or his urn) out to dinner every Sunday to their favorite cafe. You are soooo not helping.

        1. Should I mention obon — the summer holiday, when the ghosts of the dead visit for three days? Nah, that would be confusing…

          1. ONLY three days? In the one story where the family members pass but don’t pass on, they stay around for years. Of course, it does keep the local undertaker busy since he has to come by periodically to give them their “treatments”. After all, Mama gets upset when Uncle Billy’s nose — or worse — drops into his soup bowl over Sunday dinner.

            1. Actually, it seems to depend on who is telling the story, what the local version is, and being able to ignore the day-to-day chats with relatives at the family shrine in the corner. See, obon is when the spirits get an opportunity to come visit, and then we send them off again. I do wonder what happens if a spirit overdoes things and misses the return? Do they lock the poor ghost out for a year?

              Then that there is this other strain of them being part of daily life. Maybe different mythologies?

  1. You know, all this “mouse telepathy” stuff going on these days? Do you think they could come up with a way for our subconscious to talk to us instead of this underhanded “hijack the writing” stuff?

    Oh, and trust your inner critic. You’ve been training her for a while, and she knows what she’s talking about.

    NO. BONFIRES.

    Think of what the _next_ character would do. Make you write on the cloud or some such.

    1. My inner critic is a bitch who likes to torment me. If I start trusting her, she’ll figure out new ways to drive me insane. As for finding new ways for our subconscious to talk to us, are you insane?!? It’s bad enough now. Think about how loud and demanding it would be if we made it easier for them to let us know what they were thinking.

      But I like bonfires. They’re pretty and warm and cleansing. Fire good. ;-p

  2. Congratulations?

    You have taken on a Muse who speaks to you in complete books – and series, no less? And you are questioning her? Him?

    I know the feeling of being in the grip of something which simply won’t let go – but it seems rather discourteous to be given the gift of flow, and a novel dropped into you lap, and even CONSIDER the fire.

    In modern times here, you finish it, put it up – WAIT. If the gift is true, readers will find it. If not – and it is some kind of strange aberration – readers won’t happen. If some people don’t like it, they’re not going to burn you in effigy (there’s them flames again) and torch your house. Maybe they will leave a few bad reviews. So?

    Remember the writing isn’t for YOU, it’s for its potential readers. At least you’ll be free of it for a time while the next book in the series gathers steam for its turn at possession.

    Don’t be a wet blanket. Muses don’t like that.

    1. My muse is an evil bitch who takes great amusement in torturing me. That’s why I often threaten her product with bonfire. She knows I won’t do it — Sarah has forbidden bonfires and keeps reminding me I can’t sell the ashes and make as much for them as I can for the actual e-books. Since I like money, I just fantasize about bonfires now.

  3. Amanda, I’m glad my current WIP was not quite as aggressive as yours is. I’m going to have to at least write the first chapter of the next volume, however, before I can get back to other things. Or so the story has informed me.

    I hope the muse (or mews) knows that I am NOT writing the rest of the trilogy until my research books come in. *Glares at keyboard* Do you hear me? I’m not writing another quasi 17th century battle scene without research. I’m warning you.

    1. Uh, you do know the moment you tell it you aren’t going to do something, it makes you do just that, right? Good luck not writing that quasi-17th century battle scene without research (bwahahaha)

      1. Yeah, well, now I also have to learn about late 17th century cannons and foundries. For the first volume I ended up reading a great deal about mules. The muse is being a PITA.

        1. I did say my muse likes to torture me. I think it is part of the muse code. Where do you think the phrase, “suffer for your art” came from?

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