Day 343 – The importance of the “where” in writing a story

Day three hundred forty-three of my 365 Day Writing Project.

I have been working on my second book (fiction) for a couple of months now and while I am certain about the “who,” the “when” and the “what” in the story, I am completely undecided about the “where.” This is ridiculous to me, since the “who” and the “what” aspects are typically more complex. The “where” should be the easy part. For whatever reason, I keep changing my mind. So far, I have flip-flopped between three different states. And maybe starting in one state and ending in another. Or maybe three or more different states. See what I mean?

My indecision – while in the middle of writing the book – has led me to the profound understanding of how important the “where” actually is. Where the story occurs not only dictates scene background, it also dictates the voices of characters, cultural characteristics, experiences of characters, weather events, climate in general and countless nuances along the entire spectrum of details. As is the case in life, in a piece of writing the “where” touches everything.

To be undecided about location puts the writer in a position of writing sections she knows will need to be changed. Some of the writing thus becomes a string of contingencies. If happening in location A, it will be this. If happening in location B, it will be that. For instance, I wrote a colorful memory from my main character’s childhood that involved sweet grass. In the location I was imagining at that time, it worked. But if I change the location, it will have to be omitted if sweet grass is not indigenous there. This would be a minor change. However, major changes throughout the story might also have to be made.

For instance, a key thread in the plot centers around the protagonist’s ongoing efforts to flee the political and religious views of her upbringing. They are conservative, hard-core Christian views. This works very well in a location such as Alabama, but not as much in a place like Vermont. If a change in location means changing or omitting this thread in the story, well, then I’m changing my whole outline and likely resigned to writing a very different book.

The longer a writer remains in static indecision the more muddled her creative process becomes. Choose the location of your story at the same time you outline the “who,” “when” and “what.” And do your best to stick to it or you’ll end up changing far more than you anticipated.

Trust me, the “where” touches everything.

Day 294 – At least I’ll always have my imagination

Day two hundred ninety-four of my 365 Day Writing Project.

I waited all day. I waited over fourteen hours, actually. For over fourteen hours, off and on, I thought about writing. Distracted, busy, obligated to fulfill a long list of responsibilities, I had to wait. I was eager to sit down and write today, which is pretty much the norm for me. But it was another Monday I had to go to work when all I wanted to do was stay home and write.

Hour after hour, I couldn’t take my mind away. When I could – when I wasn’t absorbed in one of my legal matters or taking care of my kids or doing yard work with my husband – or maybe even when I was doing those things, I was thinking about writing. Earlier today I described it on Twitter like this:

If I can’t be writing, at least I can allow my mind to tumble freely through the halls of the story.
And that is what it feels like. It’s like my mind is tumbling around ideas, words, story line and characters, with no particular sense factored in. That’s my imagination, like a load of dirty laundry in a front-loading machine; it’s a busy mess in there. So, then what? What does one do with all of those active thoughts about a story? One writes.
I wrote down some of my tumbling thoughts tonight before they vanished. Now, they reside in my outline. Boom.

Day 178 – It’s never too late to outline

Day one hundred seventy-eight of my 365 Day Writing Project.

Words: 1,200

After I finished writing last night, I jotted down some notes to organize changes in plot. At the time, I didn’t fully realize the value of doing that exercise. Tonight, I did.

I had been having trouble sorting out the many plot changes that developed over the last several months. Even more troubling was the difficulty I was having reconciling those changes with an eye toward an ending. While I wrote last night, the changing plot lined up in my mind and I could foresee the ending. It was an aha! moment. While it was fresh in my mind, I wrote down an outline to map out how it will work. Coming back to that outline tonight was immensely helpful because I had already forgotten some key points. My memory was instantly refreshed and I started writing with a plan and purpose in mind.

That’s exactly how I started writing this book. I created an outline that I followed for a while. Then things changed. The plot took twists and turns I had not anticipated. I loved it when that happened; it was thrilling to see the story develop organically. So I scrapped the outline and just wrote. Creating a new outline as things changed seemed like a waste of time since I figured the plot would just change some more. And it did. Now I know that it is never too late to do an outline. Even if the ending is in sight.

Since I am writing my first book, I am enjoying the learning curve. It is humbling for the most part, since I recognize how clueless I was when I started. Frankly, I’m still rather clueless. But I am learning every day and improving my writing and story-telling skills. It is definitely a journey.

Day 109 – Where to go from here

Day one hundred nine of my 365 Day Writing Project.

Words: 400  (Words for Day 108: 1,000)

Yesterday I jammed out 1,000 words but didn’t blog about it. Now I wish I had, because tonight I struggled to write. I was ready and willing, which is half the battle, but when I sat here at my laptop and tried to get things rolling, I stalled out. The thing is, I know exactly what’s the culprit. It’s the story.

Let’s face it. When you’re story is rich and interesting, you don’t stall out. When it’s experiencing a lull in content, you just might have difficulty getting words on the page. That’s where I am at the moment. I’m at a loss for where the story is headed. Even more so, I’m unsure of how the story is going to get there. And this, I’m finding, is not much fun. Frustrating? Yes. Fun? Nope. All I want to do is fix the problem and get back to exciting, fun writing.

But how? What does a writer do when the story is failing her? Honestly, I don’t know. I’m hoping some of you do. For now, I think it’s time to pull out the ole’ outline to regroup and refresh the ole’ memory.

Day 85 – Don’t panic. Just keep writing.

Day eighty-five of my 365 Day Writing Project.

Words: 1,000

It can be hard to convince yourself that what you are doing is the right thing. This is true in just about any context, including writing a book. I’m not talking about the decision to write a book. That’s one decision of which I don’t need any convincing. I’m talking about a decision on which direction to take the story.

When I first started writing this book, I wrote an outline of the plot. I had a general idea of where the story needed to go. But when I am in the trenches of writing, things sometimes change. The story has veered off course on several occasions. It has been fun and exciting to allow things to evolve organically, but my outline is basically defunct. I’m continuing to make decisions every day and although I still have a general idea of where the story is going, the road to get there is quite different than I had planned.

Tonight, I had an oh-holy-hell-I’ve-mucked-it-all-up moment. Panic. Maybe the decisions I have been making are totally wrong. Maybe I’m terrible at this. Maybe what I am doing is not the right thing. After roughly 75,000 words into the book, what the heck do I do? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I just need to keep writing. And have faith that I’ll get the story where it needs to go.