Thursday, March 6, 2014

It's the Process That Makes a Difference

I’ve been working on a sequel. The problem is I’m not in my usual writing spot, my safe hide-a-way in the lower level of the house, surrounded by piles of paper and files strewn about the floor. I’ve been driving my wife across town to an unfamiliar curling rink so she can get in some additional curling, acting as a spare. I’ve brought along my little netbook, am sitting at a rickety table drinking coffee and yes, I must admit it, eating a homemade cinnamon bun fried in a quarter pound of butter. I agreed to write a sequel (or two) to my novel, The Queen’s Pawn.

I write in different styles. Pawn starts off lighter than my first published novel, The Dark Lady, and only gets slightly darker toward the end. Then there is my fantasy detective Housetrap series which makes very little pretense at ever being something serious. So for a sequel to Pawn, I have to get back into that peculiar head-space: action, romance and some attempts at humor. What kind of opening sentence do I write? One that throws the reader into the middle of some action, or one that tries to re-introduce the reader to the familiar characters?

I have never re-written an opening paragraph so many times. I usually just charge ahead, full speed, and let the words fall where they may. After an hour and a half I’m still on the first page. Good grief! Of course, the fact that my netbook battery dies at that point does restrict my time-frame. I’ve finally come to a decision. I will press on and forget the fool opening sentence, for now. If I don’t stop re-editing what I’ve been doing I’ll never make any progress.

I just finished reading an interview Stephen King gave to the Atlantic. Mr. King says he doesn’t think conceptually when he begins, he just goes ahead and writes the first draft. I suspect the marvelous opening sentence is something that comes much later, when he is deep into the polishing process.

This reminds me of a problem I have come across with some beginning writers. I know someone who has been writing the great historical romance for the last thirty years. I’m not certain if she has gotten past the first two or three chapters yet, but I know she has re-written several versions of the opening. My advice, ignored, is to just write the darn thing through to the end. How do you know if you have the idea for a novel, if you don’t finish that all-important first draft? If you run into an immovable stone wall at 5,000. words, it may be a short story. If it dies at 30,000. you may be able to salvage a good novella. I repeat, just write the darn thing. I started with pen and ink, and then graduated to a typewriter. Re-writing and editing a manuscript is far simpler now in the world of computers. Finish it! Finish it! Gentle polishing by hand can come later.

I suppose I should take my own advice then, press on with Pawn Two, even though I’m not certain where I’m going, except, fortunately, I do know where it is supposed to end. Already an unexpected character has joined the cast on page one. And those cinnamon buns must provide some inspiration!


The Dark Lady - February 2012
Housetrap - December 2012
Knight’s Bridge - March 2013
The Queen’s Pawn - April 2013
Dial M for Mudder - July 2013  
House on Hollow Hill - Sept 2013
Hounds of Basalt Ville - Nov 2013
The Housetrap Chronicles Volume One - Jan 2014


Julie Eberhart Painter said...

You had me at cinnamon buns!

Inspirational food for the big happy muse. Cinnamon lowers inflammation, defeating arthritis. Butter conquers the bad effects of statins, and coffee used to be the temporary cure for diabetes; it lowers blood sugar.

Your writing advice is right on, first the story, then the judgment.

Liz Fountain said...

Mmmm.... cinnamon and butter and dough.... oh, wait, writing? I think this is why most of my first drafts come during National Novel Writing Month. Pushing on to 50k words no matter what means I have no time to edit as I go. I must. just. write. on.

And, once into it, that part of the process - riding those creative waves (and crashing now and then) - is great fun for me.

Thanks, Ron!

Big Mike said...

I fought writing sequels for years until my publisher strongly suggested I do them on two novels. Turned out really good but a trilogy would be hard.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)