Thursday, April 21, 2005

How I Got Here, Part 39


Well, now that we've talked POV for a day. Didn't come to any consensus, did we. But that's the interesting thing--readers are so different. Just know when you write, no way you can please 'em all.

You will lose some readership when you write in first person, no matter the genre. Just as some of you said, some folks just don't like to read it. Which I totally can't understand, 'cause I love the POV. Sometimes I wonder if readers who don't like first person have basically just read it lousily done. (Like that word, lousily?) As for suspense, I do think it's harder to do in first person because you have to put the main character amid all the action all the time. It's interesting now moving back to third person for my new series.

By the way, Paige is now out of hot water and into a dark and spooky place. Poor thing. Trouble just follows her wherever she goes.

Okay, BGs, back to our NES. Last we left off, I'd just signed my second two-book contract with Zondervan--for Color the Sidewalk for Me and a sequel "blind book." I was in the midst of rewriting Getting Into Character. After that I had to write book 2 in the Chelsea Adams series. Then I'd have to write book 3 in the Bradleyville series to follow Color the Sidewalk for Me. (Remember, Cast a Road Before Me, book 1, had been published by a house other than Zondervan.) Had no clue about either one of 'em, but hey, as agent Jane said, I'd think of something.

I finished the Getting Into Character rewrite and sent it off. Yippee! Celebration time, now that it was done. And I was quickly learning a book wasn't really done until after the rewrite. Sure, there were still copyedits and proofing stuff to come, but they would be easy. The rewrite was the last major hurdle.

So I went shopping. Naturally.

Time to write Chelsea Adams book 2.

Uh-oh.

This was the first time I had to come up with a book--on deadline--without having an idea. The thought of having to come up with something under such pressure (and believe me, already having been paid--and spent--the first half of the advance is serious pressure) just froze my brain. Nothing would come. I had no inspiration, no bursts of creativity, no story I was driven to write. And I had to write one anyway.

So I went to the basics and approached the problem through sheer technique. I knew that the story needed to be another complex plot featuring Chelsea Adams. I knew that, in order to be a good follow-up to Eyes of Elisha, it had to have a strong twist at the end, with lesser twists leading up to it. I knew also that the story would have to be about Chelsea getting herself into trouble because of another vision she had about a murder. But that loomed as a problem for me, because I saw how quickly a second book could become formulaic. Chelsea has a vision, things go wrong, she has another vision, everything is straightened out. And if there's one thing that bores me, it's formulaic writing. So the story had to include Chelsea's visions, but I didn't want the action to be driven by them. Hm. How to do that? And how to come up with a twist?

I have a copy of an old book published in the early 1900s called The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations, by Georges Polti. Had to hunt for a used copy on the Internet, and ended paying close to $40 for it. This book rests on the premise that there are only 36 basic stories. It goes through each one, describing its conventions. During my 10-year period of writing and studying the craft before being published, I had intently studied this book. I'd made notes on each "situation" and given myself homework--thinking up 2-3 modern day examples of each one. These notes I had kept and stuck in the book for quick reference. Well, now I needed a story and didn't have one. I pulled out the Polti book and looked at my notes. (For a quick run-down of the situations and possible plot points for each, go to http://harris-donahue.tripod.com/harrisdonahue/id15.html)

Since I wanted a strong twist for this book, I figured I'd start by discovering this twisty ending. I knew from my studies that some of the strongest twists come from leading the reader to think he's reading a story in one of the "situations," then leading him to see that the story is actually the exact opposite "situation." However, only a few of the "situations" have an exact opposite. That narrowed the field considerably. So I chose two exact opposites as my bases. Now I knew the general kind of story I would present on the surface, and the "situation" it would really turn out to be at the end. From this general concept I began filling in details of my story and ended up with a premise that would not be formulaic back-to-back with Eyes of Elisha. I thought--what if Chelsea is on the jury of a murder trial--and has a vision then? She can't use anything other than what's presented in the courtroom in making her decision or even in deliberating . . .

Slowly the story developed.

Had I not studied so much about story structure and all its various concepts (as covered in numerous books), I'd never have known about the 36 dramatic situations and how to use them. This process of creating book 2 showed me how important it is to really know the craft. This knowledge can save the day when inspiration is nonexistant. This is why I tell my fiction students, "Write, write, write, and study, study, study. You'll learn 50% from writing, 50% from reading/studying."

One more interesting thing about this Chelsea Adams book 2. I knew the title before I knew anything about the story. When I was reading in Jeremiah some time before, verse 20:11 jumped out at me. "But the Lord is with me like a Dread Champion." (New American Standard Version.) Dread Champion. Wow! What an awesome-sounding title for God. It encompassed so many meanings at once. And what an awesome book title it would make . . .

The summer of 2001 was spent writing Dread Champion. It was due in the fall. Also scheduled for the fall--something major for me. Something I could hardly wait for. Eyes of Elisha--the first novel I ever wrote, the one I'd worked so many years to sell--would hit the shelves. Before Zondervan bought it, other houses had slammed their doors to this "controversial" story about visions. How would the readers react?

Oh, sheesh. What if I got tossed out of the CBA market before I'd barely begun?

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Read Part 40

2 comments:

Kelly K said...

Wow! Thanks for the workshop!

Very helpful information. Now, I am going to have to get my hands on a copy of Dread Champion. I must see how this story plays out.

BTW, my library bought Dead of Night because I asked them to. It is now available to 55,000 people in Iowa. Who will be compelled to buy it as Christmas gifts, etc. etc.

Oh, the title of Dread Champion was interesting. That is the new Thursday topic on a loop I belong to.

Glad to hear that Paige is moving along, I'd hate to thing she'd shriveled into a tiny raisin in the tub.

Stuart said...

Great commentary on sparking creativity through technique :)

And if you got tossed out of CBA fiction before you even began then this is one crazy hallucination ;)