Normally, I don't post about the intricate details on how I begin a book to the final product. No special reason. 1) I don't think anyone really cares. 2) I switch what I do depending on how close the deadline. 3) I'd have to be organized enough to tell my story. 4) What if I did explain in great detail and the final product still sucked?
Obviously by sharing all of this, I'm disregarding #4 because there is always someone or lots of someone who will not like what I write; will wish that I return to my day job; will wonder how on earth did I get published. For #3, since I am going backward with ruling out the objections, being somewhat organized does help cut down with inefficiencies while writing and as I'm desperately trying to find out a detail or description buried in stacks of research material. For #2, this goes along with #3, where I should have an organized method to approaching a book. I do believe there can be a happy medium between plotting and writing by the seat of your pants. Only I can determine my measurement for a happy writing experience. If you are taking notes or attempting to follow my map, make the necessary adjustments. For #1, I have no comeback for "no one may care." That's how I feel about all my social media blitz, but I still tweet, post, and blog.
Several months ago, I was up for a new contract. Just because you've written lots of books for a publisher, does not mean that you have a guaranteed in when it's time for a new contract. At least, I don't approach the publishers with that mentality. A new contract also gives me time for a renewed perspective on what I want to write--will it be a new series, stand alone books, or continuation of ongoing series? This time around, I wanted to commit to a new series. Series and linked stories are still the in-thing. I don't tend to like writing series because it tests my organizational skills with a grade of D+ in keeping track of details. But with 15 or so books later, I think it's time to fix that problem and join the bandwagon with a new family series.
Off I went to write the outline of a sweeping family saga with three generations. The matriarch will celebrate her 80th birthday and wants to have the bickering family in attendance. Only bedridden and death can be the excuses to avoid the family drama. The grandchildren are tasked with the duty to get their parents, siblings and cousins there, while navigating their romantic minefield. I'd submitted four story outlines, the background to the family, and a bio of each of the major players. My publisher offered a four-book contract with deadline information and release dates.
First deadline is approaching like a freight train. I'm standing at the station with nothing in my hand. Time to kick my own butt. The first book (I don't have a title, yet. We'll call it Book A.) starts the series and will have a lot of the background information interwoven throughout the story. Here's the thing, the time between writing the outline and when I actually start writing the book may be several months. In that space, I may tweak the story, not to the point that it's a completely different story, but some of the details of the romantic journey may be amended, in my opinion, for a stronger conflict.
I started with Caroline Myss' Archetype Cards. I bought these at Books-A-Million. I think any bookstore may have them. There is a small guidebook with the cards that are like oversized playing cards with pictures of the archetype like SEEKER. Then there is a "light" attribute at the top of the picture and a "shadow" attribute at the bottom--basically the plus and minus to a personality type (in layman's language). I used these cards for my character sketches from the childhood, young adult, and adult phases of the character. I also may use an archetype for their romantic relationships which is different from their everyday persona. In the current story, the hero is a WOUNDED & ORPHANED CHILD - this doesn't mean that he's literally an orphan, but he has feelings of not belonging to the tribe because his mother has remarried; SPIRITUAL STUDENT; GOD/KING complex; NETWORKER; in romantic reltionships, he's a REBEL going against preconceived trappings, constant war with commitment vs. serving inner "selfish" needs. The heroine is an ORPHANED & MAGICAL CHILD with an "anything is possible" mentality; SCRIBE for documenting the family history; PRINCE as the heir apparent to the family's business; ENGINEER; and in her romantic relationships, she's a SEEKER pursuing out of curiosity and seeking truth in her conquests with inability to commit even when she's on the right path. All the major players have archetype cards, but the hero and heroine have a more detailed one. The more in conflict they are with each other, the better and richer the story.
Then I pulled out Michael Hauge's Key Component of Story and Six Stage Plot Structure handouts. I made a copy of the Key Component of Story handout for the hero and heroine. There are crucial notes to go with these handouts. On this handout, I worked on the outer journey column talking about the outer trappings (job, goal, conflicts that would prevent that goal) of the hero and heroine. On the other column, I focused on the inner journey like the character's longing or need, wounds, beliefs, what would be their inner arc to be courageous. At this point, I pulled in Barbara Samuel's lecture on the Heroine's Journey. During her lecture, she focused on how our identities are formed through critical phases of life. As these identities form, so do our insecurities and maybe even our decision making pattern. I needed characters with whom the reader can empathize even if they are not a business mogul or live in a mansion.
Moving on to the Six Stage Plot Structure, Michael Hauge broke down the story plot into three Acts, Six Stages, with Five turning points, along with the helpful tips of what percentage of the book all these elements should be taking place. Again, you tweak to your satisfactory point. I stayed on the map and followed the rules. This particular process took over 24 hours. My outline that went to the publisher didn't fit into this grid. I knew right away why. I didn't have enough conflict and I threw in scenes to get from one point to the other. But Hauge says if you can interchange scenes from one place to another, then there isn't enough conflict. Things should be building, getting harder, getting tougher. The first conflict shouldn't be able to work as the last conflict or vice versa. Authors Barbara Samuel and Sherry Lewis drive home this point in their lectures. Lewis warns that we shouldn't build a scene to put the heroine in the tree and then in the next scene present the magical ladder for her to come down. Let her work to get down. Let her dig deep, overcome those childhood traumas to figure a way down. And definitely don't let the hero be the one to present that ladder or to lift her down. We like our independent women. They are sexier, by far.
Sitting butt in chair, I knew that I need to write approximately 220 pages. I like my chapters to be around 12-15 pages, dividing the book into 20 chapters. I estimate shorter on page count for the rewriting stage when more details are added and possible massive deletions take place. Once I figured the number of chapters and where those page numbers would fall, I then figured out where my turning points need to hit. I took six blank lined pages and started from Chapter 1 and wrote through to Chapter 20 a detailed chapter outline. Again, some may prefer a light chapter sketch and let the creative juices take over. I'm short on time and I'm trying to discipline myself to write efficiently. My major pitfall is always the middle of the book because I've thought up this powerful opening, I know how I'm closing, but the middle gets soggy and wimpy. A lot of my time was working on Stage 3 where you're building to the point of no return for either character and then Stage Four's Complications and Higher Stakes. And they had better be really high stakes and not fake conflicts that are just fillers. Barbara Samuel to the rescue with her Heroine's Journey that talks about the Descent, the Eye of the Storm and the All is Lost moment. Using that perspective, I was able to nail the heroine to the wall. That inner journey and her arc would come to fruition. By the time I got to Chapter 20--the final chapter, the close, the aftermath, I was exhausted.
I took a day off from the project, watched TV, breathed. Next phase is the speed draft where I write without re-reading, without editing, without looking back. Stay tuned.