I was looking for something in the Argh archives and found this from 2009. It’s amazing how much this is EXACTLY WHERE I AM NOW. I never learn. Although I’m grateful because it reminded me of the notecards in Scrivener which is where I’m going now. So here’s a draft from three years ago that I never published. No idea why. I’m not deep. But you can pretty much substitute Lavender’s Blue for Maybe This Time and get exactly the post I’d have written if I’d written it today.
So I have about fifty thousand words on Always Kiss Me Goodnight and probably twice that much in notes and diagrams and research, and I’m looking at massive amounts of information and false starts and raw dialogue, plus two collages and a stack of books on ghosts, and I start to panic because I am definitely [expletive deleted] because this book has to get done. I love the book and rushing it could screw it up, but sitting around waiting for it All To Become Clear is not an option. I know the story is thematically about ghosts from the past, literal and figurative, and I know it’s about do-overs, and I know it’s about building family/community (it always is) but there are still holes I can see daylight through. Well, not daylight. Have you seen Coraline? The part where Coraline walks out of the world the Other Mother has created and it’s all blank space? That’s what I’m seeing through the holes in my plot.
So in a desperate attempt to get organized, I opened a program I’ve used for organizing before called Scrivener. Three hours later, I was ready to give those guys in England big wet sloppy kisses. Scrivener: Best Writing Software EVER. My fave part is the corkboard: Each scene gets its own index card to the right of the text window that you can write notes on or, when the scene is finally structured, scene beats, and then you click on the corkboard and all the cards are spread out there with pushpins color coded to the POV character (or to whatever you want) and you can move them around until the story seems to read right and then you click on the Outline icon and it arranges everything into a written outline for you and stop me before I swoon again.
Plus you can click “Full screen” while you’re writing a scene and the background goes black so all you’re looking at is a white page. Or you can keep the regular screen and put the photos you refer to as you write in the section to the right. I could go on, but really, BWSE.
Once I’d entered everything into Scrivener, I organized the corkboard and made huge progress and then hit the wall again because there were still some blank Other Mother holes, making my plot look like swiss cheese. My head started to explode, so I took a break to have lunch with Lani, and she said, “How’s it going?” and I said, “I’m [expletive deleted].” And she said, “No, you’re not. Tell me about it.”
I never talk out my stories. It kills them for me. But since I was expletive deleted I had nothing to lose, so I explained it all to Lani, and she kept asking questions, trying to understand, and as I answered them or said, “I don’t know,” and thought about it, suddenly the holes began to fill in. We must have hashed out that story for two hours, trying to get it to a place where it all made sense, and by the time Lani got up to go back to work, I had a real grasp of what was happening in my story world. Better yet, it all made sense.
So then I went back and revised the first twenty thousand consecutive words and sent them to Lani and Krissie because I need to know if the beginning was working. Because here’s the things about beginnings: it’s all set-up. That first act, 30+K words has to establish everything that’s coming up in the book. But the kicker is, it also has to move the book, the plot has to start on the first page. And what always happens is that while I’m trying to set things up, my set-up strangles my plot. As in, “Why are they chatting here?” That would be to get the reader information which is not the same thing as story-telling so let’s rewrite that so it moves the plot, okay? And they came back with exactly what I needed–this runs too long, where’s the conflict here?, I don’t see a goal for this character–and then I had lunch with Lani again (it’s very convenient having her live upstairs) and argued some of the things with her, not because I thought she was wrong–I knew she was right–but because arguing the points makes me see the way out.
Here’s the thing about listening to other people and hashing out a plot: as long as you know what your book is about, as long as you understand your characters, even if you don’t have them on the page, you can articulate the answers to the questions in your story and then you know how to fix them. So when Lani said, “Look, North never gets out from behind that damn desk for the whole first act,” I said, “It’s a master of the universe thing: he stays behind that desk and fixes everything and never has to come out from behind it and deal with emotional things. So that first TP for him is when things get back enough that he has to come out and deal with people.” And Lani said, “Terrific, let’s see that on the page.”
If I don’t screw this up, this is going to be a really good book. You know you’ve broken through when you can’t stop thinking, “Ooooh, oooh, then that means this, which means that means this, which means . . .” Possibilities popping up all over the place like surprise lilies. I’m so happy. Or I will be until tomorrow when my head starts to explode and I realize I’m expletive deleted again.
It’s a good thing I love my work or it’d kill me.