Monday, July 12, 2010

Chapter One - Call me Ishmael

ROSEMARY: Okay, perhaps I shouldn't start my next book with those words, although occcasionally the task of starting a new book can seem as difficult as harpooning the white whale.

In this business we don't get much time to pat ourselves on the backs for delivering a manuscript before we have to get started on another one. That's where I am right now. It's seems the afterglow period gets shorter and shorter with each book. (There's a parallel here with the more traditional use of the word "afterglow" but I'm not going to go there.)

I won't say I'm stumped for an idea - there are a number of stories floating around in my brain - (yet to be harpooned) but the thing hasn't revealed itself yet.
Does anyone know what I'm talking about? The thing - the reason these characters are on the page doing what I want them to do. In some ways writing has gotten easier and in others, it's more challenging - not to keep repeating oneself whether it's language or situations.
Does Sue Grafton think about stuff like this?
HANK: Oh, of course she does. Of course! In fact, name dropping, she told me that she rewrote K is for Knowledge because in the midst of it, she realized what it was really about. (Something like she was talking, I was thinking, don't forget this, don't forget this--when I should have been totally listening.) I've been a reporter for 30 years. After each big story, I think--oh, this is the last one. I'll never be able to think of another one. AND then I always do. And then the pattern starts again.
So, I think it's the same way with books. At least I hope so. NO. It really is.
ROBERTA: Oh yes Ro, and I've heard the very accomplished and talented Nancy Pickard talk about having to throw away 200 pages because she realized it wasn't going in the right direction. Now that would be discouraging!
I keep a file folder called "new ideas" into which I stuff newspaper articles and little snatches of thoughts. Unfortunately, when I leaf through it to mine for a new book idea, there doesn't seem to be much there. Sigh. A lot of real ideas just seem to unfold during the process of writing. Can't be forced or the writing reads exactly that way.
ROSEMARY: My idea file occasionally yields a secondary or tertiary story line but so far not the whole enchilada.

For every novel I keep an "out" file where I save all the lines I cut from the first (and second...and thirty-second) draft, and it usually ends up longer than the final draft of the novel. But that's not the same as, just like that, deep-sixing 200 pages.
I'm with you Ro, right now I'm thinking about the next book that I'll need to start just as soon as I finish revising the one that's due in 3 weeks. I have a few glimmers of ideas, but nothing remotely approaching a plot. A plot is pretty essential for my kind of book. Where, oh where am I going to find the plot. Sadly I find that feeling often persists months into the writing.
ROSEMARY: Et tu, Hallie? Well, I feel a little better now. Something's just hasn't jelled yet..but it's jellin.'
Ahab beckons.


  1. I'm teetering on the precipice of starting a new book (due 10/1, ulp). I have two plot lines and no idea how I'm going to bring them together. Mostly I'm making lots of lists and going off on tangents looking online for that single important fact (anybody know what hunting season is in Massachusetts?).

    Afterglow? Ha! I submitted the last one twelve days ago.

  2. I'm mostly a pantser, although I have some ideas, usually about the major characters so I know what situations to throw them into. I'm always glad to hear others don't have those 80 page outlines to follow before they start writing the book. I've tried. Can't do it.

  3. You're starting a book that has to be delivered on Oct. 1? They would be backing up a truckload of diet Red Bull to my garage.

  4. This is so refreshing! I thought it was just novice me.

    I had several years of writing drought (during and just post-divorce). I would sit down to write, and produce a great description of a character or a setting, but it just refused to go anywhere. At least that part is over.

    Thanks, Jungle Redders (and Sheila and Terry) for sharing this stuff.


  5. I mostly just--go. And Sheila, I bet the story lines will come together as you write.

    Sometimes it's just--one word. And you think--oh! So that was it.

    October 1? Lets see. July, 2 weeks left. Aug, Sept. Two and a half months? Come on.

  6. More like a truckload of straightjackets if I had that October 1 deadline. Sheila, we salute you!

  7. I can certainly sympathize with Nancy Pickard. I only outline my nonfiction books and I painted myself into a corner with my series WIP and had to backtrack some 20,000 words. That set me back nearly two months but the new track is working out. I think I rely on my senior sleuths too much to carry the plot forward. :)

  8. Hey Ro,
    I think coming up with ideas for a series is actually harder than just coming up with a new idea. Mostly because you have the same character traits and history to deal with. It's by nature a bit limiting.

    But you'll get there!!

    I have the opposite problem these days. I have TOO many ideas and they all go in opposite directions. And all would take too much time.

  9. Nancy Pickard threw out 200 pages? Shoot, I do that once every six months. And I STILL don't write like she does. :)

  10. OOh, I say take Nancy's 200 pages...and make them the start of something new.

    Can you imagine? 200 pages of Nancy Pickard, gone. That's--fascinating. Irresistible.

    And Roberta, you're right about Sheila. You rock, apple girl.