Saturday, November 14, 2009

Point A to Point B

The other day, a (probably) well-meaning co-worker (eavesdropped) overheard a conversation between a friend and me regarding Casting Stones, the book I'm currently writing. (Please note it is no longer known by the generic Lilli's Book One although that title had a certain State The Obvious charm to it.)

In the conversation, my friend asked how the writing was coming along and I told her I needed to really get a chunk done in the next few weeks to hit my deadline. (By chunk I mean Holy Nearly Unattainable Word Count, Batgirl!) I then explained that it usually takes me around 4 1/2 hours to craft a 3000 word chapter.

The (probably) well-meaning co-worker chimed in with the pithy advice that if I already know what is going to happen in each chapter as I sit down to write (And yes, on this book, I actually DO know what's going to happen before I write the chapter ... I know. My Pantser universe sort of cracked and fell off its axis this time.) it shouldn't take 4 1/2 hours. I should just discipline myself to start at point A and end up at point B.


I'd really love to finish the story of what happened to my (probably) well-meaning co-worker but as they've yet to find his body, I think I'll just keep quiet.

But, here's the deal. In writing, 1 plus 1 hardly ever equals 2. Usually, it equals something like 7 give or take 3 to the square root of 52347059 with a margin of error as wide as the entire state of Alaska.

Here's why:

1. I start the chapter at point A.

2. Point A may or may not be exactly, to the nanosecond, after point B in the previous chapter.

3. If it is exactly, to the nanosecond, after point B in the previous chapter, I still can't just jump in without looking both ways. I have to figure out a clever way to re-orient the reader to the thread of conversation/action because the reader may have taken a bathroom break between chapters 14 and 15 and been distracted by a totally unexpected opportunity to stalk Johnny Depp through the streets of her neighborhood as he canvased the local streets looking for the perfect location for his next movie. (Please note this is the ONLY acceptable excuse for putting one of my books down before you've reached the end. Well, that and childbirth. And Zombie Goat interference, of course.)

4. Most likely, I choose to move past some unimportant, mundane tidbits between chapter 14 and chapter 15 and I have to set the scene while still picking up the thread of action/conflict/dialogue. This means I have to carefully consider time of day, weather, angle of the sun, shadows, local foliage, animals indigenous to that location, my chicken-scratch hand-drawn map of local businesses, streets and homes, vehicles (make, model, color, condition) passing by, wind? no wind?, scents, home decor, character's clothing ... and no, I'm not kidding. All of that info goes into my head, bangs around, settles, and I spend TIME carefully crafting two or three measly sentences that perfectly (I hope) set the scene with appropriate sensory detail for the chapter to get from Point A to Point B.

5. How much of my 4 1/2 hours does that take?

6. Depends. Some days I have to Google and Google and Google yet again before finding what I need. Then I have to figure out how to translate that into words without using obvious cliches or truly stupid phrasing (I refuse to admit how often the latter is discovered by yours truly upon re-reading a chapter the next day.).

7. So ... goody! 150 words done! Only 2850 to go!

8. I spend the rest of the chapter trying to get the characters from Point A to Point B while layering in setting, sensory detail, increasing emotional conflict, giving hints about secrets yet to be revealed, pushing the main conflict forward, double and triple checking every sentence of dialogue to make sure it A) rings true for that character, B) furthers that character's agenda, C) furthers the story's conflict and D) doesn't sound supremely idiotic upon re-reading.

9. Oh, yeah, and I also have to do all of this while writing in first person so all of this (including other character's secrets, agendas, and voices) have to come through the filter of Lilli's voice without losing their own.

10. And I have to be sure to set myself up for point A in chapter 16 without giving too much away too soon or losing momentum and treading water while my characters sit and stare at each other wondering when their story-teller is going to get her act together.

11. And sometimes (Hang on for the shocker, those of you who know me well) the words won't come.

12. They. Won't. Come.

13. The image I want to describe remains tantalizingly just out of reach, flirting with the edges of my brain like a ... a ... a thing that flirts with the edges of my brain.

14. And sometimes the words that do come sound good at first but end up painting me and my characters into the kind of corner where all good stories go to die.

15. Other times words flow easily and I have a brief egotistical moment of sheer elation where I think Leonardo DiCaprio had it all wrong and I am truly the King of the World.

16. But most times, each sentence takes effort. Focus.

17. Time.

Since I think great art must cost the artist something, it's a bargain I'm willing to make. But writing, really good writing, isn't about starting at Point A and ending up at Point B. It's about what happens in between. And what happens in between takes time.


  1. Which eye did you stick the spork into before dismembering and disposing of his corpse?

    This is a truly insightful and...true post. What? My brain has to work all the time?

    There are days when everything flows and I am left breathless by my genius. Then, there are the days I have to hog tie my muse to the train tracks to get her to even look in my direction.

    Would you accept a sincere Gerard Butler stalking as a reason to put one of your books down?

  2. This sort of thing I try to (mentally) clench my teeth and say "Oh really?" until they lose interest--and from the other side, I'm impressed by your speed. If you typed nonstop at 50 words per minute, it would take a full hour to get that many words out. I forgive you the occasional glance out the window and trip to the bathroom in your otherwise machine-like efficiency.

  3. That person sounds like someone who looks at a Picasso and thinks her five year old can do better. People like that think writing is as easy as knowing how to type. Sadly many writing sites and groups are full of people like this, which is I'm done with most of them. These types think that if they can rhyme "cat" and "hat" that they are poets.

    It is pointless to argue with anyone stupid enough to make a comment like that because they will never get it.

    What you wrote here in your blog was wonderful (as always). Yes there better be more than point A and B in good writing or it might as well have been written by someone like your coworker. :)

  4. "It's not that hard to sketch, line, scrutinize, color, realize you colored on the wrong layer and you can't undo anymore and have to revert the file, weep, become frustrated, and attempt to save only to realize Photoshop is smoking something terrible and won't let you save the file all while sweating profusely.

    But can you tell me how to make a new layer?"



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