Today, with the help of a cafe mocha and a wholegrain brownie from Starbucks, I leaped over a major hurdle in my writing life, and I can’t tell you how good it feels. Well, I can try to tell you, but until you’ve done it yourself you probably won’t know what I’m raving about.
I figured out how to end the book I’m working on.
I’ve been stuck on my rewrite of my fantasy novel, The Stones of Ashreel, for ages now, making no progress because, to be quite frank, I don’t know how to end it. I mean, I know the basic ending: (some of) the good guys win, (some of) the bad guys lose. But the actual plot mechanics of getting from where I am now (“everything is horrible”) to where I need to be (“happily ever after”) were a little hazy.
I don’t really plot well. As a writer, I think my strengths are character development and dialogue. My weaknesses are creating a vivid setting, and moving the plot along. Two things that are pretty essential if you want to write fantasy.
The problem with describing setting I have an explanation for: I attribute to my not being a very visual person. Someone asked me at a party last night to identify my daughter’s Grade One teacher by description, and I just stared at her blankly. I could pick the woman out of a police line-up, but tell you what colour her hair is? How long it is? I just don’t register or recall details like that. (If you’re a crime victim, you’d better hope I’m not the only eyewitness). I have a very strong auditory memory, however, which I think is why I do dialogue well: I can “hear” people talking in my head quite easily. I just can’t see the room they’re in, or what they’re wearing.
The problem with plot I put down to me being not very bright.
I always tell people I only know one plot: person is born, lives, dies. It’s a good and durable plot and I have used it in the past (most notably in The Violent Friendship of Esther Johnson, and also in my Biblical fics about Esther and Deborah. This plot lends itself admirably to historical fiction). But I require a story that’s a little more plot-driven, where cause actually has to lead to effect, I find myself all at sea. As I’ve been, for several weeks now, with the end of this novel.
Today at Chapters I went to Shannon Patrick Sullivan’s signing for The Dying Days (read it! It’s good!!) and then I retired to Starbucks with the aforementioned mocha and brownie, and my clipboard and pen. I started writing out, in summary form, everything that needs to happen from here to the end of the novel. And, to my utter amazement, I got there. I’m not sure it all makes sense, but I have something that resembles an outline.
I don’t normally do outlines: my writing process doesn’t work that way. As I explained in my comments on the blog of the amazingly organized writer Katrina Stonoff, my writing process (if you can call it that) is inspired by the words of Theodore Roethke: “I learn by going where I have to go.” I start writing with only the vaguest sense of what’s happening and let the story unfold. Surprises occur. The story itself tells me where I need to go. I know some authors swear by outlines, but I can’t work that way.
Now, though, I need an outline. And now I sort of have one! You wouldn’t believe the rush of energy and enthusiasm I now have to get back at this project. Having a clear sense of direction makes all the difference.
Other writerly notes: A little more Shameless Self Promotion is in order. I am reading on Wednesday night, October 11, at 7:00 p.m. at the Mount Pearl public library. It’s the first Michael J. McCarthy Memorial Reading, and I’ll be there along with Tina Chaulk, Paul Butler, and Giller nominee Russell Wangersky. I’m also participating in Memorial Writes on October 29 (the link above is actually to last year’s event, but it’s happening this year again!); I’ll be signing books and hopefully chatting to people from 2-4 p.m.
Also, I’ve just updated Compulsive Over-reader with four new book reviews, so click on over there and check them out.
Finally, this has nothing to do with writing, but we’ve been laughing at it like crazy ever since Jason found it last night. The kids and I have been going around singing the chorus all day. It’ll only be funny to geeks like us who love a) Star Wars and b) Weird Al Yankovic — and come to think of it, most of the people in those two categories have probably already seen it — but just in case you, like us, have been living under a rock and missed this, here’s the funniest music video I’ve seen in awhile: