When I started writing Perfidy, it had been twenty-five years since I’d taken my creative writing courses in college. Over the years, I kept up with my personal journals, but most of my writing was in the field of business. I spent most of my adult years as a secretary or administrative assistant. Although creative, business writing and fiction are different animals. Business writing must be concise and to the point where fiction can be more elaborate and descriptive.
As I thought about the story, I wanted to tell in Perfidy, I came up with a first chapter that set up the story and I wrote the climactic scene. Now, how was I to fill in the middle and do the wrap up at the end.
One of the questions asked last Saturday was “Is the current opening chapter the first one you wrote?” I had to answer, yes, sort of. Chapter One is the original chapter revised to make it tighter, but not the original Chapter One I submitted to the publisher.
When I wrote the first chapter, I had in mind to have the protagonist, Mandy, file a missing person report and go from there. My dear friend and fellow author, Tricia Zoeller, liked the first chapter, but thought it should come later. So I created this great sexually tense first chapter between the antagonist and her accomplice (no names used) and made the original Chapter One, Chapter Two. I took it to my critique group and was asked if the novel was a mystery-romance to which I said no.
I immediately rewrote the chapter to show these two tense individuals out in the lake disposing of something I do not reveal to pull the audience in. Everybody liked it. Then it went to the editor. She felt I might be revealing too much and suggested I shorten it to a half page or one page.
I chose the half page option, called it a Prologue and now Chapter Two returns to being Chapter One thus making my original first chapter the first one I wrote, but tightened up per my editor.
The second question we were asked was “How much time did you spend on your first five chapters?” I had to say too much time.
As I said in a previous paragraph, I wrote the beginning and the climax first and then tried to fill in the middle and the end. I will admit this was a very disorganized way of writing. It made it difficult to keep track of things I’d already mentioned in previous chapters, so I read and reread Perfidy from the beginning too many times, but I had to make sure it was flowing properly.
Another thing that slowed me down by reading the manuscript from the beginning was the irresistible urge to edit as I read. By the time I did that, I only wrote one or two new chapters when I probably could have written five.
After a few months of this disorganized writing (which bugs someone as organized as I am), I decided I had to do something to help me write without frustration. The first thing I did was create an Excel Spreadsheet to keep track of my characters. In it I have a worksheet of main characters and a worksheet with minor characters. Since I’m writing a series with recurring characters, it’s important that I make sure I always spell their names correctly and don’t put too many Amy’s in the same manuscript.
The second thing I did was get a large file box and large index cards. I have a file of recurring characters. One each card is the name of the character, their age in the first book in which they appear and a description. With each subsequent novel, I will add information to these cards on events that have taken place in their lives. I don’t want to tell you in Book Two that Erica’s mother died two years ago and then have her mother giving her advice in Book Five.
The last thing I use to keep things straight is a timeline. I simply find a calendar on Word and use it to jot down a word or two of what happened that day. There’s nothing worse than reading a book that starts out on May 5th and then find out you are into July when you think it should only have been two days.
Sue asked us if we now handle our writing process differently. Absolutely, starting with the fact that I came up with the three previous organization tools during the time I was writing Perfidy. Now I know to use them right away and I don’t have as much trouble keeping up with where I am in the story.
In writing my second novel in the series, Inconspicuous, I found myself writing it from beginning to end. I still didn’t use an outline to organize my thoughts as some authors do. It just seemed like the story was there and it just flowed. When I went back through it, I did add more to the personal stories and a few chapters that I felt brought more tension to the story. However, Inconspicuous only took nine months to complete the final draft, where Perfidy took two years.
Book Three, which is still unnamed, I completed in six months. I was traveling into Chicago from the suburbs on the train, came up with the idea, and wrote a rough outline of the book. Did the use of an outline speed up my process? Maybe a little, but I think part of it is also getting to know my characters in the first two books and prepping them for future novels helps too. By that point, I didn’t have as much to figure out.
My advice for new authors would be that you have to find your style. Diane always outlines, but I know many others who just write. Some authors take a year or more to write a book and others a month. You have to do what fits your lifestyle and your comfort level.
Like your first child, your first novel is the experimental one. You’ll make lots of mistakes and have to do more work than you will in subsequent works. Take advantage of organizations such as Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. They support new and established authors with many educational opportunities. This is also an opportunity for you to network with other authors and learn from their experiences.
Tuesday, I will be talking about characters versus story line. See you then.
Until next time.