Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Writing Direction . . . Do You Know Where You're Going?

When we were in San Diego last week, we were using our GPS to help us find somewhere to eat.  With just the press of a button, the GPS told us we were about a mile and a half from a Wendy's.  The kids were ecstatic and we set off.

After following several twisty and turny roads, we were within 500 feet of the restaurant.  Or so we were told.  When we made the last turn, instead of seeing a Wendy's restaurant, we saw SDSU.  The GPS had taken us to the university campus instead.  (Yeah, I know there could have been a Wendy's in a food court somewhere on campus, but still . . .)

The kids started joking around that because our GPS is old, that maybe SDSU had bulldozed the Wendy's to make the campus.  (Sadly, since that wasn't the only time our GPS led us astray on our trip, I'm thinking it's time to update.  We seriously cheered when it actually found somewhere for us.)

I was thinking today how that is sometimes like our writing.  We're in unfamiliar territory when we're starting a new manuscript.  We think we have the direction we want and we cheer on the way there, thinking all is well and we're moving right along to where we want to go.  But then we make that last turn and realize where we thought we were going isn't there at all.  Then we have to turn around and try again, either in a new direction or detouring around the old until we figure out where to go from here.

That happens to me a lot in my writing.  I used to be a total pantser, letting my writing take its own course and seeing where it took me.  But as I've written more and more books, I see the need for me to outline, at least loosely, so I have a direction.  So many times, however, the direction I thought I was going in ends up not being the way I end up traveling at all and I detour around and find a new path.  It's exciting and a little scary, but I think it's made my story stronger and more interesting in the end.

Have you ever had your plot or characters take you in a direction completely different from where you thought you were going?


Debra Erfert said...

Earlier this year I won a 50 critique of any manuscript from Jennifer Griffith (Big in Japan, (national publication)) and she gave me a piece of advice that kind of surprised me. She told me to start the story at an earlier place. It would make the main character more sympathetic considering the crux of the story is about how she broke up with her boyfriend after she found out about his three other girlfriends. I spent the past couple of days doing an addition chapter in front of the second chapter and using that first (very short) chapter as a prologue.

I wrote this book as a panster, didn't plan anything except that when I originally wrote this it was intended for a short story contest last year. I did have the opening and the ending worked out in my head before ever writing the first words, so that kind of kept me going in a linear movement--kept me from wondering too far from where it needed to go. I finished it, too, as that short story, and I was within a button push of submitting it, and possibly having it in the back of the newest Debbie Macomber romance released earlier this year. The problem was, if it had just been in the top three, then the 2nd place and 3d place winners would've only received pounds of Debbie Macomber books, which I didn't want, and we would lose our rights to the story-forever. I knew my story was a winner, but being number 1? It was too big of a risk to lose a story I knew would make a great full-length romance/suspense. Now I wonder if Debbie Macomber's literary agent would be interested in representing me? Hmmmm . . . There's no harm in asking.

Debra Erfert said...

Oh, I do have my Sci-Fi thriller trilogy where I've changed the endings, like, four times. They also have been through major rewrites four or five times as well, so, yeah, that pantser instinct is alive and well. I may never be totally happy with anything I write as long as I can rewrite. Is this a disease? Is there hope? Save me...

Janice Sperry said...

Ah the GPS. So much fun. There is a spot in Yellowstone where ours consistently lost its signal and would tell us to drive off a cliff. We didn't follow the bad advice. I'm sure there is a way to relate that to writing somehow.

I'm doing a complete rewrite of my fractured fairy tale. I'm not keeping a lot of the old story, except for the basic premise and a few favorite scenes. I just can't let go of the scene where she's rescued by a cockroach. Anyway, it's nice knowing where the story will end up, but the journey has been a complete surprise.

Kate said...

I'm more of an outliner so the surprises come in how the scenes play out up to turning points I know are coming. Those scenes have often surprised me, but that's what I love about writing. That little unknown of how things are going to play out is what gets me excited to come back to the keyboard.

Melanie Goldmund said...

Yes, I wrote a fanfic last year. I wanted something specific to happen, but the story kept calling out for something else, and eventually, I went with it. It changed the story completely and made it more complex and, I think, much more satisfying. So I know exactly how it is. A little scary but also exciting, both at the same time. :-)

Jon Spell said...

I think there's room for both, but I like having the outline more than just a wide open space. More structure is good. When I go to write a scene, that's where things can end up in unexpected places.

My outline is pretty vague, though, so it's a flimsy structure, but then if I have to re-do it or change stuff, it's easy. Current section " MC discovers clues about bad guy setting him up" Totally open world. =)

Regarding the GPS: I tinkered with the options so we'd get a female British voice. Then we'd find ourselves repeating "Recalculating" on our trip when we got lost on foot. Best direction was when it wanted us to make a turn on a bridge (that didn't have a turn there) and basically drive through the middle of the river.

When SkyNet becomes self-aware and wants to destroy the human population, the GPS devices will be the first to enlist.

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Debra, you have so many irons in the fire. Where do you find the time? And yes, it's a disease. I have it, too.

Janice, sometimes I like surprise journeys. Until I go off a cliff. :)

Kate, that's so true, it IS motivating when you have surprises come up!

Melanie, isn't it interesting when our stories call to us for something different than we imagined? I love/hate it. :)

Jon, there is a BOOK in that statement. You should get on that right away! (Envisioning people diving into rivers and falling off cliffs with their GPS in hand.)

Angie said...

I love it when that happens. It usually makes the story so much better than I thought it would be!

C. Michelle Jefferies said...

I used to write in a panster style and had long pointless stories that went no where. Now that I use both structure and a one sentence chapter outline I write much better stories that are more compact and make sense.

I'm glad for my years as a panster though. I had a story to tell, a two book present the problem and solve the problem type story. As I was rewriting the story my character "found religion" and the two book story became a nine book series/parallel story cluster. I'm much more happy with the new stuff so I'm glad I wasn't allways a structure gal.

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Angie, you are so right!

Michelle, I am a lot like you. I need to use more structure probably, but I outline a lot like you with chapter outlines (not one sentence, but a few). I, too, am grateful for my pantser days though. They taught me a lot. Can't wait to read your new stuff! :)