Tag Archives: Harry Potter

How to Save a Life, by Sara Zarr

14 Jun

Coming October 18, 2011 from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Is it possible to give a book six stars?

This book…this book, you guys. I don’t really know where to begin about it. I’ve been reading a lot of dystopian novels lately, among other plot-driven novels, and novels with paranormal elements to them. It was refreshing to read a novel that was straight-up contemporary. But, by “refreshing,” I do not mean refreshing like a trip to the spa, or a day at the beach, or something else lighthearted and fun.

By “refreshing,” I mean this book made me feel, moved me to compassion and understanding in ways I haven’t felt in a long time (if ever, possibly). Sara Zarr has this utterly incredible talent for writing about the world in ways that are just so real, ways that shine light on life—even the most common, mundane things—in a way you’ve never noticed before.

My favorite books are always the ones that tend to rock my world in some way. The Hunger Games trilogy did that—after Mockingjay, sad as it was, I felt hope. Across the Universe helped me appreciate sunlight, Earth, stars, fresh air, freedom. The Harry Potter books, due to—how do you sum THAT up? Their magical epicness, I guess—were the books that pushed me over the edge toward “I want to write my own novel,” something that has changed my day-to-day life in a very real way. Divergent was an adrenaline rush that made me think about human nature, about the impossibility of perfectionism, the prevalence of flaws in humanity, and the importance of bravery.

How to Save a Life reminded me to assume the best in everyone, and hammered home the notion that there are a lot of broken people in the world who would give anything for a hug, or someone who will listen to them, someone who won’t break their word. Also, it strengthened my appreciation for my amazing parents, wonderful husband, the baby I’ll give birth to in September, and all the little things I tend to take for granted.

Here’s a link to the Goodreads page, where you can read the blurb for this book and put it on your to-read lists.

Accio Chopstick Wand!

19 Nov

Remy the Ravenclaw Cat. Yes, that is his wand. And, yes—it IS a chopstick.

Here at our house, ALL of us are excited about the Harry Potter premiere.  This afternoon, we’ll be taking a break from the boxes (the Chick-Fil-A waffle fry boxes, obviously)(sans cats) to go be awed and amazed by what looks to be an incredible movie.

Can. Not. Wait.

No, seriously.  I can’t.  I’m about to throw on that Ravenclaw scarf, whip up some fake butterbeer (vanilla bean ice cream + butterscotch syrup + cream + blender = AWESOME.), jump in my car, and drive to the theater.

Soon, I shall be out of this moving phase and will stop posting pictures of our cats.  Thanks for hanging in there with me. ❤

10 Things I Learned From First Graders…

28 May

Well, since you’ve all been dying to find out whether or not I got eaten alive by a den of hungry first graders the other day at my event as a guest speaker, today’s post is about that.  (About the event, rather — not about me getting eaten alive.)

Thank you, everyone who gave me encouragement and advice and ideas!  The event went well, especially considering I don’t baby-sit often and the only kids I see on a regular basis are the ones who treat the Starbucks café like their own personal zoo.

These kids, though?  These kids were adorable.  Maybe it’s fun-aunt-slash-kind-grandmother syndrome — they were adorable because I had no responsibility and was only around them for a very limited amount of time? — but whatever.  It was fun.

I’ll spare you the details of what I said, since I did pretty much what I told you about in the last post.  Instead, I thought I’d give you a fun list of the stuff they taught me.

(As usual, I feel I should advise you to click over to the actual post, rather than attempt to read it on the main page — the list below is much less cramped that way.)

10 Things I Learned From First Graders

  1. Six- and seven-year-olds are way more articulate than I thought they were. They expressed themselves with confidence and clarity when they spoke.
  2. They aren’t afraid to ask questions, and they asked some really good ones! Among the questions: Is it hard to write a novel? (Yes and no.) How many books do I plan to write? (Several, since I’m hoping this will be the first in a series.) Am I going to be rich? (Hahahahahahahahaha.) Where do I write? (Starbucks, or home, or anywhere quiet.)
  3. While many questions were surprisingly articulate, there were a few that were so adorably first-grade: “What is the cover made out of?” Not, “Who gets to design it?” — but what is it actually made out of? Um…thicker paper?  Thin cardboard?  Cardstock?  (Forgot to put that on my list of answers to prepare.  Silly me.)  Also adorably first-grade: “Do you have to write a lot of books when you write a book?”  Translation: “How do so many copies get printed?”  The sweet girl thought authors had to make, by hand, every single book that makes its way to a store.
  4. First-graders, these days, are not sheltered kids. They were all already familiar with Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, which totally surprised me.  Like, not just familiar with the names, but they recognized the cover from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Plus, at least three of them are currently reading the third Percy Jackson book.  Huh.  Good thing I didn’t bust out Dora the Explorer or Magic Schoolbus and expect them to think I was cool.
  5. They like to talk.  A lot. It’s probably more like they just enjoy the attention, but that meant lots of talking.  They were well-behaved, though.  The talking made things easier for me, because they were neither bored nor disinterested, and the Q&A time went on for longer than expected.
  6. I learned that I do, indeed, have a catchy title/main character name. I’ll call him “S.H.” for now, because at the rate my edits are going, someone might be able to whip up something with his name before I get the chance, and that?  Would not be good.  I didn’t even mean to bring his full name up, but I opened my notebook to the title page and they all read it out loud!  From then on, it was, “S.H. this,” and “S.H. that.”  Something about hearing his name said over and over again by strangers just warmed my little heart.
  7. Along with that, they are idea generators! My book is geared more towards the YA audience (though with first-graders reading Harry and Percy, I guess anyone could end up reading it one day), but if I ever decide to write for six-year-olds, I am now well-stocked with ideas.  “Miss Olson!” they exclaimed, “You could write ‘S.H. and the Missing Eyeballs’!” [giggles] “Or, ‘S.H. and the Missing Cheeks’!” [cue adorably freckled kid covering his cheeks as if they’ve fallen off] “Or, ‘S.H. and the Missing Freckles’!!”  I guess, to six-year-olds, all it takes to make a hit is a good name and something that’s missing.
  8. They’re perceptive without really knowing how perceptive they are. I asked them, “What tools do you need to write a book?”  Among the usual — pencil, pen, paper, computer — I got an interesting answer: an eraser.  That was fun to work with, because it led to a conversation about revision and multiple drafts.  I learned how to explain revision to them on the fly, and it was part Stephen King and part luck: “When you’re writing, you want to share the ideas in your head with someone else,” I told them.  “After I finish writing them down, I read them.  If I look at what I have and go, ‘Nope — other people won’t see the ideas in my head like I do,’ then it’s time to write it again.  I change it until it’s able to make other people see what I see.”  They got it.  Miraculously, they got it.
  9. In case there was ever any question, kids ABSOLUTELY DO CARE if their parents show up for things. After the Q&A time, the kids were herded to the library, where they got to read the books¹ they’d written in front of guests and family.  It’s a great idea, actually — very bookstore-book-signing-esque, where they get to be the author for the day, complete with refreshments and flowers.  Anyway, I had to console a little girl whose daddy told her he was coming, then didn’t show up.  Sigh.  They notice.  Yes, they do.
  10. The tenth thing I learned?  Even though it didn’t take much to impress these kids, their enthusiasm was contagious and motivating nonetheless. “I’ll buy all your books, Miss Olson!” one kid said, with the others nodding.  “Will you let us read it when it’s published?”  Count on it, babes.  You may be in fourth grade by the time it’s out of manuscript form and covered with whatever a cover is made from, but when that day comes?  Heck yes, you can read it.  Your library will get the first signed copy.²

All in all, you can probably tell I had a blast.  Who knew I liked interacting with kids so much?  Not me.  Maybe one day I’ll have some of my own.  (Sigh of relief heard from my parents, in-laws, and husband, I’m sure.)

Now: on to writing!  I’ve got ambitious goals for the day, to accompany my heightened motivation (and to make up for my less-than-stellar rest-of-the-week), so here goes.  How’s the writing going for all of you guys?  We’re several weeks in to the Creativity Workshop — are you guys hanging in there, or are you discouraged, or somewhere in the middle?  How’s the writing going for those of you not participating in the Workshop?

¹Illustrated non-fiction books about sea horses, starfish, octopi, and sharks. (When I saw these books, it became clear where the “What’s the cover made out of?” question came from.)(Construction paper, in their world, FYI.)

²By the way, nothing after the part about them being in fourth grade when it’s done actually met sound waves.  Kept the rest in my head.  Didn’t want to frighten them with happybabble.

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Who, What, When, Where, Why

26 May

Well, today should be interesting.

I’m breaking from my usual routine of get-up-drink-latte-write-blog-write-workout-and-so-on and am merely drinking black coffee from a French press, preparing to go do something I’ve never done before.

A friend who is a first grade teacher invited me to come speak to her class for Author Day, and I’m this mix of nerves-meet-excitement about it.  When she invited me to speak, I warned her that I’m not technically an author, yet — that while I’ve made significant progress on my novel, I still have a long road to travel before that word applies to me.

Eh, she didn’t care.  “They’ll love you,” she told me, “They’ll be excited just to meet someone who’s writing a novel, published or not.”  Alrighty, then.  Speak I shall.

I’m going to do my best not to bore the little darlings with my (exciting-to-only-me) array of colored pens, my myriad notebooks, my stacks upon stacks of post-it notes, and the minutiae of what goes into a novel.  Most of that will stay hidden away in my tote bag.  Instead, I’m going to focus on the basics: what is a story, and how do you write it?  Can you do it as a first grader?  Does a book have to be a certain length? (Cue my dear visual aids of A Wrinkle in Time versus Harry Potter and the Order of The Phoenix.)  Where can you get ideas? (EVERYWHERE.)

After some attempts at engaging them, I’ll bust out my (totally geeky awesome) notebooks that represent the process — I have one with pictures of my villains and loads of brainstorming, a tattered first draft, a three-ring bindered second draft, and an example of some pages that are bleeding orange, purple, pink, red, and a couple of neon highlighting swipes to boot.

Before all of this, however, I need to tame my mane of hair so I don’t scare them away when I walk in the door.  Seriously.  I’m not exactly sure what a banshee looks like, but it’s the word that keeps coming to mind when I think of how my hair looks this morning.

Deep breath.  It’s only a twenty-minute guest visit.  Twenty minutes.  Not hard, right?

Right.

It’s too late for me to fish for ideas, but out of curiosity — what would you guys say to a group of first graders about being an (aspiring) author?

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All Was Well.

24 Mar

“All was well.”

– J.K. Rowling | (The final sentence in the Harry Potter series.)

And, indeed, I imagine all was well with J.K. Rowling as she settled on those final words, those ten little letters, last in line behind the several million letters that spelled out the story about a boy, a scar, how he got it, and what it meant.

Work like hers does not happen by accident.

Letters don’t just fall into place, and ideas — no matter how magical — don’t just tumble, fully formed, beautiful, captivating, onto the page.  At the end, all is well.  In the beginning?  An idea.  Then, a first word, then many more words, until words fade into story.

But what about in between?  What happens, if not magic, between the first word and the final sentence, to make something special out of mere words, something logical and coherent out of ideas, something empathetic and captivating about characters?

I don’t know yet.  Whatever technical skill is involved, though, I’m inclined to believe that patience and determination are the yeast that make the whole thing rise into something great.

Before my long hiatus (spent in the unseasonally warm and disappointingly un-snowy Minneapolis, Minnesota), I promised a post about editing.  I thought it only fitting to start talking about this overwhelming process with a little bit of inspiration: even J.K. Rowling had to start somewhere, with a single word.  Everyone is a beginner at some point, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.  Some beginners quit, and some beginners end up writing seven Harry Potter books.

I’m a beginner.  Specifically, I’m a beginner who is determined to learn how to do this thing, to do it well, and to end up more toward the second category (and definitely far away from the first).  This is my latest post on what I’m learning, and as I warned in my pre-hiatus post, it may be a long one.  After almost two weeks of not posting, though (Not a trend I intend to keep up, by the way.  That was just due to Minneapolis.), I don’t feel too bad about the length.

The Problem

Editing a novel?  It’s a little (okay, a LOT) overwhelming, to say the least.  I thought I was more prepared to tackle this part of the project, but as it turns out, I was only somewhat prepared.  Though I’ve read loads about what to look for while editing, and have even done a great deal of actually looking for, and finding, those things to change, I noticed a problem.  How, exactly, was I supposed to go about changing things?

After making pages of color-coded notes for each scene, I wasn’t quite sure where to begin with them: do I start chronologically?  Or, with major issues and plot changes?  Do I switch the scene order first and then start with the changes?  I had stellar ideas about what actually needed changing, but was clueless when it came to physically making those changes.

The Solution

My Novel

Index cards.  After staring at the various iterations of my notes for a while, I finally figured it out: a stack of 336 pages of black on white is not the easiest thing to navigate.  I needed something tangible, an outline I could hold, a deck of scene cards.  At a glance, each scene needed to be as recognizable as aces or spades; one look at the whole hand, and I’d know in an instant the layout of that section.

The Process

Here’s what I’m doing, step-by-step, to begin physical editing work.  I’ll start with the cards, and move on from there.

  • INDEX CARDS. | One card = one scene.  Title of the scene goes on the front, in bold black.  On the back, I wrote the scene number and listed the pages on which it currently appears, for easy reference.
  • SECTIONS. | I read through the deck of index cards, scene title by scene title.  I grouped them into logical sections of varying lengths, each one ending in a climax of some sort.  This project currently has nine sections.
  • TO-DO CARDS. | For each of my nine sections, I created “TO-DO” cards.  They are hot pink, and I placed them at the beginning of each section.  Each one is flagged with a post-it flag, so I can easily flip between sections.
  • POST-ITS. | On the back of each “TO-DO” card, there are three small post-it notes.  From left to right, there is a pink, a green, and an orange stuck to each “TO-DO” card.  Starting with Section One and ending with Section Nine, I evaluated each section’s major issues.  On the pink post-its, I made notes regarding those issues: which scenes need to be moved/cut, where new scenes need to be written, what problems need to be dealt with first when dealing with that section.  On the green post-its, I made notes on plot and continuity issues.  On the orange post-its, I made notes about pacing, language, and other things that need general smoothing-out.
  • FEELING PREPARED. | Dividing the novel into sections, and figuring out what needed work within those sections, helped me feel more prepared to start physically editing.  My novel in deck-of-cards format helped me make notes about specific preparations I need to take in order to make major changes.  I feel confident that I can go chronologically now, because I’ve planted notes for myself wherever later-in-the-book changes need to occur.
  • MARK THE PAGES. | Starting with Section One, I completely obliterated my pages.  They already had red pen on them; this time, I went in with pink and orange.  Red, I used to mark general observations; now, pink marks specific changes to make, while orange is for thoughts and other ideas.

    Section One

  • MAKE THE CHANGES. | After marking up Section One, I will make the actual changes on my computer.  This is where I am right now; I finished marking the pages right before my trip, and plan to start making the changes on Monday.
  • RINSE + REPEAT. | My plan, obviously, is to work my way through all nine sections.  I never intended for what I’m working on to be a final edit, so I’m sure I’ll have to go back once I’m done and tweak some things.  However, I think it will be much better after this pass.

So, there you go.  I’ll let you breathe, or eat, or sleep, or theorize about LOST now.  Just thought I’d share what I’m doing with you guys, because for all the what to look for when editing posts I’ve come across, there haven’t been too many that deal with the order in which to work those changes in.  As always, I reserve the right to humbly change my process, should it become mind-numbingly terrible.

For now, though, all is well.

Six

6 Nov

I’m having the strangest urge to knit something, or wash my hair, or run a few miles, or organize my entire home.

Guess NaNoWriMo is getting to me.  

Fear not.  Rather than ditch my writing, I’ve decided to do the sensible thing (sigh) and just sit down and do it.  There will be plenty of time for knitting later.  Like, in December.

I’m giving myself two hours (though I have more than two hours) and a mini-challenge:  write, write a lot, and write well.  According to my nifty little Excel spreadsheet (which was a nifty little piece of justified procrastination), I am currently behind schedule by 2,617 words.  Can I close the gap by 4:00pm?

Maybe.  Maybe not.  At any rate, I should probably try to keep the gap from getting deeper! 

Anyone else feeling the Day Six Drag?  Do you feel an inexplicable desire to slip on some pajama pants, watch something mindless like the Hannah Montana movie, and whip up your own version of butterbeer?  Do you wish you could go all Hermione Granger on your NaNo project, and with one flick of your wand and an incantation of Manuscripto Write-Yourself-O, get some words to magically appear in your novel?

Oh.  Maybe that’s just me.

NaNoMeter: 7,385 down | 42,615 to go

Lava

7 Oct

How can it already be Wednesday?  Wow. 

I’m taking a brief break from today’s writing work to tell you guys about the amazing discovery I had this morning.  Seriously.  It kind of rocked my world, and I don’t know how I’ve written so much without it.  Ready?

My villain scares me.  Like, scares me in a Hitler-meets-Voldemort-meets-Benjamin-Linus kind of scary.

And yet, I pity her, in that I’m-so-sad-you-went-through-those-awful-life-experiences way, where you start to understand and feel such sadness for her, it almost excuses her horrible actions.  Almost.

Before this morning, she was sort of shadowy, lurking around, posing a halfhearted threat.  Now, she’s more relatable than I realized, more menacing, more driven.  She’s a danger not only to my main little guy, but to everyone around him.  It’s imperative that she not be allowed to succeed, yet what’s scary is that not everyone in the story can see her danger.

Having larger, scarier consequences automatically makes everything else more important.  Really, you can make tension about anything – not that you should.  For example:  

Emma drove to the fabric store on a rainy Thursday night.  She splashed through the parking lot, soaking her new jeans, and walked the familiar paths of the store’s fluorescent aisles.  Anticipation churned in her stomach as she rounded the corner to aisle twenty – and relief!  Emma plucked the last of shade #1061 from its bin, not even checking for quality, and took it to the counter.  “Lucky you!” the clerk exclaimed, “This shade of violet’s been discontinued!  You got the last one!”  Elated, Emma drove home through the flooded streets.  She tucked the plastic bag inside her rain coat as she raced across her apartment parking lot.  In the dim yellow light of her living room, she opened the door of the display case and smiled.  Pristine rows of embroidery floss, untouched and still in their little paper wrappers, lay in rows on the glass shelves.  Tonight, the last empty space would be filled.  Tonight, years of searching would end.  Emma pulled the violet thread from the bag.  Her hands shook; she flung it to the ground.  Frayed at the ends, it lay at her feet, flawed and rumpled, useless.  Years of searching for perfection, and for what?  She grabbed the display case with both hands and hurled it at her apartment wall.  It shattered, scattering tiny shards of glass everywhere.  Emma stood in the midst of her mess and stared.  Years of ambition, over, just like that.

My point?  Probably obvious, but just in case, you can draw the drama out and infuse tension into any problem cared about by anybody.  To this crazy lady, a collection of perfect embroidery floss is a huge deal.  To everyone else?  Not so much.  It seems like a trivial problem, and it’s not really a threat to her overall well-being, whether physical or financial.  Emotional, perhaps, but it seems she has emotional problems already if she’s gonna get so worked up over the frayed ends of embroidery floss, or if she’s setting out to collect something like this in the first place.  

This is obviously an extreme example of a “who cares?” plot.  Lots of drama (and, um, melodrama) over something so unimportant.  Big deal if her thread is frayed!  Big deal that she’s collecting in the first place!  My novel wasn’t teetering anywhere near this cliff of stupidity, but it wasn’t exactly calling for everyone to drop what they were doing and care.  

Now that I’ve figured out what my little guy is fighting against, and fighting for, his trials feel much more important.  There is a lot at stake if he fails.  I’m afraid of my villain, of what she can – and will – do.  Vicious opposition, terrible consequences – they give me a much stronger reason to care about the plot’s outcome.  My little guy is definitely not going through so much pain and consequence for a victory equivalent to rows and rows of perfect, un-frayed embroidery floss. 

How did I ever expect to write something compelling if I wasn’t even afraid of my own villain?  Or, if I didn’t pity her – and kind of relate to her?  If I wanted my little guy to suffer minimally on his way to conquer a problem that was tepid, lukewarm, instead of lava-level boiling?  

Things are heating up, and I’m excited.  Poor little hero.  He’s about to have to learn some tough – though valuable – lessons the hard, scathing, painful way.  He might not thank me for it, but I’m pretty sure my readers will, one day.

The Forbidden Journey

27 Sep

I wonder how it feels to have a world you created in your head not only make it into seven books’ worth of print, not only sell a gazillion copies of said books, not only come to life in an eight-part film series, but to see the readers you’ve touched through your ideas actually be able to enter the world itself?

I mean, really – what Harry Potter fan hasn’t wished she could walk through the streets of Hogsmeade and drink butterbeer?  What Harry Potter fan hasn’t wished he could eat Bertie Botts’ Every Flavor Beans, get a magic wand from Ollivander’s, or purchase a Sneakoscope from Zonko’s¹?  Every Harry Potter fan I know, myself included, would love a chance to do these things!  And soon, thanks to Universal Orlando, we’ll be able to.  That’s right – they’re opening a theme park called “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.”  Oh yeah, and there are roller coasters, not just Potter-themed stores.  We just have to wait a little while to visit – Spring 2010, according to the article² I read this morning.

Now, from a realistic standpoint, we aspiring authors will not all become the next J.K. Rowling.  However, I think we can all agree: it’s inspiring to think all this started from an idea she had in her head, and continued by her diligence to execute it onto the page.  Years and years of diligence, years of patience, years of determination and love invested in her story world.

When I get stuck, I always get re-inspired when I think of J.K. Rowling.  The thought of affecting the lives of strangers through my ideas is exhilarating, whether it’s the life of one stranger or 10 million.  How rewarding it must be to have extraordinary love for the story world you created, and then see others so excited to love it, too.

On an unrelated, but just as motivating, note – check out Merrilee Faber’s post about finishing her novel!  Talk about patience and diligence – 89,600 handwritten words (notice the picture she posted of her manuscript), what appear to be seven dead pens, and somehow, her hands have not withered to claws, even after fifty-six consecutive days of writing.

¹It occurs to me that this may be the silliest group of words I’ve ever combined in a sentence.  

²Read the full article here.  It’s called “Universal Reveals Details of New Harry Potter Park,” written by Travis Reed, and I came across it on MSN this morning.

Quirky Side-Effects of Editing

24 Jul

The editing process has officially seeped into every crack of my life.  Odd things keep catching my attention in day-to-day things like music and movies, sermons and conversations.  What makes this odd is that it’s not just the presence of things I’m noticing – it’s also their absence.

Weeks’ worth of work on my novel has made me start noticing the choices made by other people in their work.  No surprise, really – what is editing, if it’s not a constant series of choices?  

Editing presents seemingly limitless options: what to convey?  What’s the best way to show it – Action?  Dialogue?  Exposition?  Summary?  What do you leave out, so your focus shines?  

As I deal with these questions, I have begun to appreciate everything more.  While watching Harry Potter, I found myself analyzing the scenes, thinking, “What are they trying to accomplish here, and why did they choose to include that word/image?  How would I communicate this idea, if it was my choice?”  I noticed more details – Who decided they should sit on the floor while they talked, and why?  What changes were made to the soundtrack that made this entire film feel darker than the previous ones?  Things like that.    

Even on reality shows like Survivor, the editors’ choices make a big difference in our perception of the cast.  They take a load of film, sift through it, and choose a focus for each week’s episode.  There could probably be several different seasons made out of the same film, depending on who and what they choose to highlight.

Editing has even seeped into my thoughts while at church.  Last Sunday, it occurred to me that one of the songs might be more powerful if its lyrics touched on not only Jesus’ sacrifice of death on the cross, but the resurrection which completes it.  While I liked the song, a better edit might have conveyed a more complete message.  

Crafting my novel has made me so much more aware of these things.  I’m learning how not to settle for the mediocre, but dig in and try to make it the very best it can be.

Instead of taking things at face-value, I’ve started thinking more about the behind-the-scenes.  Of all the stories in the world, why did they choose this one, and what compelled them to tell it in this way?  I love being more observant, and I can feel my work sharpening because of it.  

In what ways has your work as a writer affected your everyday thought life?  Do you feel more critical of everyone’s work since you’re so used to finding ways to make your own work better?  Or, maybe, are you more appreciative of everyone’s work since you know how much time, thought, and effort went in to craft even the smallest things?  Maybe a little of both?

Focus & Wayward Scenes

20 Jul

Remy the Cat

Today begins Week Three of the second draft project, and I must say, I am ready to get down to business.  It is dark and stormy here, I’ve had my latte, and my ideas have exploded over the past week.  (Guess I should probably add, they’ve exploded in a good way.  Not exploded, as in, Oh no, now I have a load of worthless junk all over me.)

Last week, I faced – and duly overcame – a dilemma.  During week one, I was focused on getting words on the paper.  I started fresh, and was productive.  Then, somewhere around chapter three, I started thinking, Hmmm…This looks suspiciously like my first draft, except for the first scene.

I love seeing how this writing process unfolds.  The first draft, I wrote straight through, with no outline and no backward glances as I went.  When I finished, it felt fresh and like a good foundation, but it lacked depth and solid roots.  Letting my mind empty on the page provided a wealth of characters and ideas.  

The second draft, though, is not (only) about new ideas – it’s about sifting through the first draft, making sense of themes and adding dimension to characters, which then add credibility to the plot and actions therein.  While my first draft was highly unplanned and free, I fear my novel will never see cohesive, powerful completion if I do not pay meticulous attention to detail.  Hence the second draft process: clearing clutter, narrowing in on the important stuff, and loads of charts, lists, and outlines in place so I can write a focused draft.

So, I pushed pause.  Being a numbers-driven individual, it was hard to step aside from my nifty (and beautiful) word-count-tracking-spreadsheet-extraordinaire.  I focused instead on the character arcs I’ve developed over the past few months, which are much more rich than they were in the first draft.  I crafted a scene chart, which is basically a bunch of color-coded blocks on a spreadsheet, linked by arrows, and functions as a less-wordy outline of sorts (obviously, I’m feeling a bit more loquacious this week due to my charty, non-wordiness last week…).  I worked my way through my notes, section by section, laying out the scenes I definitely need to make those delicious character transformations happen.  Right on schedule, Friday afternoon, I finished it.

It was torturous to wait all weekend to move forward, but I told myself the rest would be a good catalyst to a week of great work.  Now, here I am, Monday morning – so ready to expand those scene-blurbs into full chapters.  I think I have a good structure in place so I can write freely through the scenes, and not waste time on the unnecessary.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, writers, on your experiences.  Do you like outlines?  Do they hold you back or free you up?  

 

PS: Finally saw Harry Potter.  Loved it, though there were some liberties they took with the story.  Those don’t bother me enough to think the whole movie was ruined.  It was visually exciting and the plot was mainly kept in tact.

PPS: Yes, that is Remy the Cat, at the desk where all my creativity happens.  I kicked him out of my chair, and now he’s snoring on the bed behind me.