A hearty Standing O for those of us surviving another upcoming season of damn-it-to-hell DST. We earned it! Should somebody important happen to be reading this, I implore you: PLEASE put a fork in that spring-ahead/fall-back mess, it’s far long past its expiration date. My love for REM sleep and said dreams thank you. For those living in Hawaii and Arizona who don’t have to tolerate this foolishness, damn you for being irritatingly lucky to be off that pointless hook :).
It was during NaNo 2011 when I drafted my 2nd Casebook, tentatively titled KINGZ of CASPIAN COUNTY–and (w)here the WTF was I thinking part of this post–comes to pass. Having had so much fun writing my 1st book, I decided to tackle a tougher challenge: A plot within a plot.
Well, it sounded so good in my head!
In conversations with myself while on decent dog walks as my family and I lived in Gettysburg at the time, I had it worked pitch perfect. Dozens of read-throughs–and since out of Gettysburg–a decade later, I found and fixed plot-holes, minimized adverbs, changed the past to present tense. Cut many slice-of-life bits, turned questions to statements where it made logical sense, and more or less trimmed fat on a microscopic level short of hiring a dev editor to walk-through this book with me (which I’d’ve happily paid for the task, but for the price tag short of a first-run remodeled DeLorean on a mint condition asking price. Yeahhhhuhhhh . . . no 😏🤫🤫😏.) Still, I trust and know the story is strong from the onset. made stronger when bits of inspiration dropped in when least expected. But here’s a few gems of an Herculean task I learned while on this ride that grounded me, and might help you in your novel stage, too.
Trust The Process
If you’ve a great cast, they’re not gonna mind a complicated plot. Nor will you or your readers. Sometimes the rules have to be busted wide open to rock your 🌈imagination🌈–insert SpongeBob’s use of the word here–to get you from Point A to Point B. You’re playing God in your writing world–so go batshit crazy. But even He can’t go outside His boundaries of the elements; like every breathing being needs C, O, I, H, H2O, and glucose to survive–for those of you in #RioLinda, C, O, I, H, and H2O is carbon, oxygen, iron, hydrogen, and water–stick with the writing rules. Just know when to play fast and loose with and within the rules. And while on this subject: toss that pile of crap about being established first to do this. Said who? The established authors, I’ll guess. Another topic–ahem, pet peeve post–for another time.
G’head, Get Messy! You KNOW You Want To!
First drafts are supposed to be a disheveled playroom, anyways, so write-play with abandon and kick your critics, haters, and doomsdayers to the curb. You’re dreaming out loud on paper. You’re God in this world. The actual God made the platypus, right? A mammal giving birth to its own in egg-form like birds do, but it’s got webbed feet and a bill like a duck? C’mon, now! So don’t hold back. You can always fix that disheveled playroom later. Or keep it and let your imagination pick up from where it’d left off in that room when you re-read your efforts, tweaking here and there. Most of us forget we’re dreaming out loud on paper, tucking the absurd in the crevices where everything makes sense to be pulled out later to logically tie everything wildly imaginative together.
Which brings us to . . .
Wow . . . Don’t You Clean Up Nice
There’s a big difference between a disheveled playroom of a story (which can be tidied) and a dumpster fire one (which can’t be), and it’s more than just how you see it. If not only your instincts are telling you the project is insalvageable, but so are beta readers, your editor, or an average Joe listening to you read it aloud, or if you’re just not feelin’ it anymore, just chuck it. And don’t think twice doing so. Again, you’re dreaming on paper, so you can toss that dream and find a fresh one. Your readers or characters won’t know or care much about your behind-the-scenes work. Your characters might even thank you for putting them in something more harrowing, unthinkable, frightening, or adventurous than your previous try. Whichever the case, you got this :).
But IF the story works, be merciless what weighing-down elements stay on the cutting room floor and keep them there. Stay consistent, as aforementioned. Have a realistic transition phase. No deux ex machinas. Foreshadow decently. Blend the least likely things to happen; truth’s stranger than fiction, right? So make it apply TO that fictional world and defend it to the end. Most importantly, don’t feel you have to justify or explain yourself on the impossible. Wanna know why? The impossible happens in the 3D world all the time, so why not have it happen in yours? Because it’s your world, your imagination, your prerogative, and your damn rules. Because you said so. That’s why. You already know this, but it’s always nice to have a reminder of such periodically.
Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help
This doesn’t make you a failure as a writer. You’re only a failure as one if you don’t ask. Simple, right?
Yes and no.
Even if outlandish, the author giving said advice is one you’d love to give a good punch in the puss for challenging your non-writing-related views–yeah, I know, you’re looking at me, and I don’t mind, really :)–take it. Try it out. See what happens. You might love it. You might hate it. But let it stand on its own merit, not for what her kooky beliefs are aside from it. You don’t know if it won’t fit because she’s not on board with your NWR worldview; her input might’ve been that puzzle piece needed, or that one way to clear the creative roadblock of your project stymieing you for the longest time to finally move on from.
But you’re secretly saying: Well, damn. If she’s right about this, is she right about that other thing I think is bullshit?
Nah. Broken clocks are always gonna stay broken clocks :).
Listen To Your Instincts, Always
So what say you? What’s your mess of a story at first that cleaned up nice? Did you have a plot within a plot that had elements in it bringing both together? Was it a struggle getting it there–or did you throw the MS away for something simpler?
I’m still working on KINGZ, elated for the light at the end of this decade-old tunnel. I’m happy to report one of the truly impossible events that happened in the 3D world does in this book. Not only does my MC/narrator survives this, I wrote this event not knowing a similar event happened to a skyscraper window-washing team. But I’m even happier to to report my third Casebook is a straight mystery of cat-and-mouse trying to outwit one another (think Tom & Jerry meets Spy v. Spy). Listening to podcasts of true crime stories and why villains do what they do is a big help in forming this mystery for a more realistic, believable villain.
Happy Valentine’s Day a week early!
Deepest apologies for this post going live prematurely. I forgot this was my day to update, believing next week was my day. I also weathered a wicked sickle cell trait bout recently, adding to the forgetfulness. For those posting comments to this, I thank you all and appreciate you more than words can properly express.