It’s been longer than I care to admit since I worked on my third book, Wild Spread, in any serious way. There are plenty of excuses for why, and some actual reasons, but neither change the fact that work came to a dead stop. There was no flow—of words, of ideas, of anything except frustration.
This seems to be my pattern: intense periods of work followed by months of inactivity. This time I was in a deep funk over the quality of draft 2 and the inadequacies of draft 2B. And I wasn’t sure draft 3 was headed in a direction that was any better. When that happens, stubbornly moving forward is just a waste of time and mental energy. A writer friend insists that “all writing is good writing,” even when it’s crap because it is writing, but I know myself well enough to know that at times like this that’s a bad approach.
The time away has allowed me to finally see where the flaws in the outline for the middle of the book were and what they were. And I can thank writer Karen Walker, a presenter at the recent Tucson Festival of Books and author of The Dreamers, a novel that also deals with a world-wide plague, for giving me the idea for a fresh approach.
Walker’s book has two story-lines, which she wrote independently, then blended. While Wild Spread has five major characters, each of whom has their own story-line, my heroine, Janet Hogan, is supposed to be the central one. Therein lay the problem with the outline (and maybe with Act I of the book too): too much of the other characters, too little of Janet.
So this week I’ve been thinking and writing notes about the plot as it relates to, and drives, Janet, about what has to happen to her, and about she might act and react. My job is to be as mean to her as possible—without being so crazy that my readers will throw the book across the room—while giving her the opportunity in the end to overcome everything I throw at her. Or not. (No spoilers here!)
So now I’m close to the point where I can focus on writing Janet’s story, and from that build the story-lines of the other characters to weave in. Some weaving will have to happen from the start, as the characters have become so interconnected through the first two books, but by putting my focus on Janet, the proper roles of the other characters should develop naturally.
Should. They could, of course, get stubborn. Characters do that sometimes. When they do, I need to pay attention because they’re trying to tell me something, but that too offers a way forward. And when I have an idea what that way is, I’ll be back in the flow again.