Coming up with a story isn't hard. Everyone with a bit of imagination can come up with a plot. And a lot of people do. But coming up with a plot is not the same as writing a novel. It's developing that story, and the characters within it, that makes writing so tricky. I often find that the devil is in the details, and I can sometimes write myself in a corner.
When people ask me if I’m a plotter or a pantser (flying by the seat of my pants) I tell them I’m a little bit of both. I like to have a rough idea of where my story is going, and I need a beginning, middle and end before I even attempt to write it. There will be certain parts that are fixed within my story line… but the rest I pants. I just make it up as I go along, with the fixed points in my head.
I feel like I don’t know my characters until I’m finished with my first draft, and once I know them, I need to do a lot of tweaking in my manuscript. I’ll get back to earlier chapters and think “It’s not logical that *insert character name here* would do this… they’re a completely different person.” That’s because the characters evolve as I write. This also keeps my beta-readers on their toes, because sometimes I forget to change things, being the ditzy person that I am.
Now, the more complicated my plot becomes, the more difficult it becomes to ‘pants’ it. At the same time, I can’t write when everything is completely plotted out. It’s a waste of my time, because the characters always pull me in a different direction anyway.
At this moment, I’m writing the first novel (not come up with a name for it yet) in a trilogy called Celestials. This is a story I’ve been wrestling with since I was 23. So sixteen years this damn story has been haunting me. It’s changed so much in that time. The first version was all about a demon who escaped hell. She’s still in the book –though both her name and personality have changed drastically, and she’s no longer the main character. It was meant to be a graphic novel that I was going to write, and Paul Chapman was going to illustrate. We never got around to it, but the story always stuck with me.
Several years ago I wrote the first serious draft (I had written a few drafts before, but always got discouraged). It was terrible. I ended up junking most of it, though I kept one chapter and a lot of ideas. Then I wrote a second and a third draft, each completely different. Each with elements I liked. Late last year I started over, and I actually reused bits of the last draft. They needed a good polish, but I liked the general idea.
To make matters worse, I had written several other things, that I thought would tie in really well with the universe around Celestials. I did more world building and came up with new ideas. It only made the story even more complicated.
As I was writing I decided I didn’t like the way things were going. There is a lot to tell about this story, and I was going about it all wrong. It turned into an info-dump… which is an author’s nightmare. I had to change things. As I was changing, I started to doubt the actions of some of my characters. “Why on earth would they do that?” I would ask myself, and in an attempt to fix the questions, I would explain why they did things. I was telling… not showing, and it sucked. So I got discouraged and frustrated, until I realized, that if I changed the story just slightly, I could explain a lot of it away… without having to actually explain things.
In order to do so, I had to completely change my demon character again. I also needed to cut out a HUGE chunk of dialogue, and I needed to even dump two entire chapters. All gone… all that writing I had done… gone. I started with a 30K document, and added at least 4K… and ended up with a 26K document. That kinda sucked, I tell you.
Sometimes it feels like I will never finish this damned book. And other times, when I’m feeling particularly negative, I remind myself that if I do finish it, there will be people out there who will hateit.
And there will be, because there’s always someone out there who will hate it. No matter who you are, or what you write, you can’t win them all. All I can do is hope that I will finish this someday, and that I’ll be satisfied with the results. Of course I hope more people will like it than hate it, and with a little bit of luck, some people might even love it… who knows. First I need to finish it, and get it all to work. So I need to stop tormenting myself, and just get on with it.