Writing Craft: Finding Your Way aka Novel Death Match!
If you’ve ever taken a writing class with me, you know that I am an outline writer. When I come up with a story idea, the first thing I do is write an outline. I like to think of it as a road map to get me from “once upon a time” to “happily ever after” with a minimum of confusion.
But, oy, is there confusion. Have you ever been on a road trip or headed to a new place and gotten turned around? I remember driving through the wilds of Central Florida with a map that had only northeast streets when we wanted southwest. And the time my husband and I stood in front of the same address number on streets with the same name shouting in to our cellphones and crane our necks looking for each other. Turns out, he was in the wrong town! A mile away there was some sort of mirror universe he’d gotten sucked into. It took a lot of asking strangers what was going on to figure that one out.
Writing can be a lot like that. After all, before its been written, a book is nothing but possibilities. Sometimes you are headed down the road, following your map and it’s looking pretty good. Until the trees look funny or there’s a gas station where there shouldn’t be and you realize there’s this other place that looks just as good as the road you were on,. And maybe it has better shops or an awesome view that you just couldn’t see from your originally plotted course.
To switch metaphors, when I was a kid, I took my Lewis Carroll seriously and believed there was a different world in the mirror. I would crane my neck and try to peer around corners to see if my mirror double also had a pink bathroom with a poodle on the pink toilet seat (yes, some insight into my life as a child of the 70s). Science fiction writers and horror movies have had a field day with “the things inside the mirror!” As it turns out, every writer sticks their head through the silvered glass and wonders, “should I be on this side, or that one?”
Now, I should give you sage advice on what to do when confronted with a mirror image of your story that is so much better dressed and clever than the one you started working on. But I don’t have any sage advice for such a Sophie’s Choice. What I do have is “put them on a small planet and have them fight to the death” advice. Read both versions. Let them duke it out for supremacy. Which one excited you the most? Which has the fewest problems (or at least the most fixable ones)? Which version will get you to your deadline on time (not an artistic choice, but a realistic one– you will still work your fingers off to make it the best version of that version as possible before turning it in)?
And so, today I am having a Novel Death Match. I will read two versions of the first act of my current work-in-progress and see where the chips fall. The best, if somewhat ghoulish, part about a novel death match is I can go Frankenstein on the remains. If Version A wins with it’s basilisk glare and dragon fire (ie. pacing and emotional throughline), except it could use the massive wingspan and talons of Version B (ie. scope and action), I can sew them together seamlessly and make Version C– the mega novel! A towering behemoth of rich literary awesomeness that staggers the mind.
Or, at least, that’s the goal.
So, um…what’s your Tuesday look like?