There’s the book I’m writing, the book I will eventually publish… and then there’s the book I WANT to write. Thanks to last fall’s Advanced Novel Planning course, I now realize that those three items are completely different. I’ve always thought through my characters’ motivations—but I’d never before taken the time to consider my own. So now, writing my fifth novel, I’ve finally asked myself: what do I really want to say?
It might seem like a pie-in-the-sky question, but answering it has helped hone the story line. Ten minutes of free-writing on “what story do I want to write” identified two topics that are my primary motivators. More importantly, it also homed in on a subject that I will try to avoid (even as one particularly headstrong character pushes in that direction).
Characters go off track all the time (just like authors). And like real people, the stronger their personalities are, the more determined they are to drag me and the story with them. Such determination is part of their charm, of course—but it can also lead to a word-fest of distraction. Like a good parent, I can steer and direct—especially if I know where we’re headed. It’s a balancing act for sure, and I’ve always erred too far toward a free-range approach.
Like any creative endeavor, novels start off with unrealistic expectations, like: I’ll finish my next book in half the time, and it will contain twice as many ideas. A few years ago, in a post entitled “Next Novel: Work Not Yet in Progress,” I referred to this planning stage as “both terrifying and terribly exciting, the twisted strands that make up pure potential.” Somewhere along the way, of course, those ideas and characters must get winnowed down to only those that serve the “beam” of the story. And an important part of that beam is clarity about the book I WANT to write.
As Story Genius author Lisa Cron puts it, “Creativity needs context. It needs a leash.” Knowing where I want to take us will help get this next book written—though not in half the time, and definitely not with twice the ideas of the last one. I’m certain that this book will end up being quite different than the one I originally set out to write, and I’m also equally sure there will be plenty of surprises along the way. So stay tuned—you’ll be the first to hear my progress updates.