Monday, February 27, 2012

A Different Story

So, as I have more than sufficiently whined on this blog, I'm having a tough time getting into the voice of the third WiP.

Because I somehow felt that I hadn't whined ENOUGH here on the blog, I also sent a whining email to Chessie. She said she knew how I felt, because it had happened to her when she was writing a character that didn't think/talk/react like some of her others had. The characters that behaved more like her, she said, were easier to write. But those that didn't were more of a challenge.

Which is when it occurred to me - ONE's main character thought about and reacted to things in a way that felt really familiar to me.

This main character? Not so much.

When I realized this, the rest of it came to me in a rush:
Not only is the main character different - the entire book is different, you guys.

I know. This probably should have been obvious to me before I started trying to write the darn thing. After all, here are the things I  knew about this book even before I started drafting:

  • The main-main character undergoes a sudden and dramatic life change right the beginning. She has a character arc, of course, but the events that make it up are kind of crazy and tumultuous as opposed to quiet and steady.
  • But that's not all! The book actually has two main characters.
  • The main love story is between the main character and a minor supporting character, and is tangential to the main plot.
  • The story is futuristic sci-fi, and requires extensive worldbuilding.
  • It has some really terrifying bits (at least to me) and people die. Kind of a lot of people.
  • There's a resolution, but really no happy ending.
  • No one would call this story fluff. Unless they REALLY weren't paying attention.
For the first  couple weeks I was (purportedly) working on this project, I acknowledged all the above things, but somehow didn't realize what they all meant:

This story is different, so it has to be written differently.
  • It requires a lot of research, most of which cannot be accomplished by Googling stuff.
  • It has two main characters whose goals dovetail about a quarter of the way through the story, despite wildly differing backgrounds and motivations.
  • Which means the story must be (gasp!) outlined. (I have never outlined any aspect of any story before ever ever ever)
  • I might have to do some writing exercises to really get into the head and the voices of these characters, and to make them distinct. (I have never done writing exercises. Thinking about writing exercises makes my skin crawl.)
I'm not used to doing any of this. I don't know how to do any of this. 

But that doesn't mean I'm going to quit. What does it mean? 

This story is different. So I have to learn to be a different writer.
Or, less dramatically, I have to accept that writing this story requires skills I haven't mastered yet, then buckle down and work my butt off to get those skills and totally rule at them.

It would be so, so easy to throw my hands up in the air, give up on CHROME, and write another story just like ONE. To let another main character with the same slightly sarcastic and vaguely optimistic first-person present voice tell another story about finding herself in some unexpected and beautiful way (and kissing a very cute boy quite a lot along the way.) 

Don't get me wrong - ONE is a good story. It's a strong voice. It has sweet characters. I love it deeply, and I believe in it with all my heart. 

But I didn't start writing so I could write the same story over and over again. 
 I don't want to get better at writing one way - I want each new book to make me a better writer in a different way.

And, what do you know - as soon as I really, truly accepted all this?
Writing got a little easier.

I don't know if it was me giving myself permission to let the suck flow, just like I did while drafting my very first manuscript (yep, the one before ONE.)
I don't know if it was finally accepting that I didn't know that much about how this MC would sound, and letting myself experiment with that.
I don't know if it was admitting that yes, I did need at least some semblance of an outline before tackling the writing (which I jotted down before I started.)

But this weekend, I nearly doubled CHROME's word count.
(Amidst a slog of a birthday party, a two-hour-long work thing, a morning of baking, and sundry childrearing and household responsibilities.)
Yep. Somehow, just accepting that this story-writing would be different - not harder, necessarily, but a completely new experience - let me just get the words out onto the screen again. It feels awesome.

Okay, sweet readers. Please share your stories of writing breakthroughs. How have your stories made you a better and better writer with each one?


  1. Congrats on the breakthrough! :D What little details you've given here make it sound really interesting too. Good luck writing the rest of the book!

  2. Most of my stories have been wildly different from each other, more so because apparently I alternate between literary and fantasy, and quiet introspective stories and stories with ALL THE PLOT. (Although I can easily pinpoint the overall themes too.)

    Anyhow, lately my two biggest breakthroughs were in writing something wildly different from all the rest--an adult literary short story--and challenging myself to get giant leaps better.

    The first one was the most difficult. I hadn't written short stories in forever, let alone LITERARY ones. Because of that, but even more because of the story--'my' Holocaust story, that required both a lot of awful research and resolving personal issues--it was the hardest thing I've written so far. Bar none.

    My other breakthrough was the scariest, and one I'm pretty sure I've mentioned before: falling in love (like, head over heels, completely) with a book mere weeks before I wanted to query one of my own MSs and subsequently binning said manuscripts and starting from scratch. Because I was going to make my story as good as that book and *nothing* was going to get in the way of that. At the time it was the scariest decision, but now that PALADIN is almost finished, I know it was absolutely worth it :)

    (I'll get around to blogging about both at some point.)

    It's not an easy road, but CHROME will shine. It will be absolutely awesome :) And we'll cheer you on every step of the way ;) (Also, I love plotting and writing exercises. Just sayin')

    1. I can't IMAGINE varying genres as wildly as you do. You're BRILLIANT!

      Your story about falling in love with a book and wanting to write something as good as that is SO inspirational.

      PALADIN is amazing. I wouldn't be surprised if it was BETTER. You are a gem, my friend. <3

  3. My biggest writing breakthrough was the novel I wrote when I first realised I wanted to write YA. It felt SO different to anything else I'd ever written, which was wonderful and scary both at the same time. Wonderful because I knew, in a way I'd never known before, that this was 'my' genre, and scary for, well, the exact same reason - if it didn't work, I had no idea where to go next.

    Writing is all about the breakthroughs for me. The more challenging the writing feels, the more I know I'm learning and progressing – which is a good, if stressful place to be!

    Best of luck with CHROME. Have fun with it and if all else fails, there's always chocolate. :) I'll be cheering you along too!

    1. Wow, that is HUGE. I can't imagine changing age range. YIKES. I'm so so glad it (obviously) worked out for you!

      Knowing that writing is all about the breakthroughs is both terrifying and exciting. Makes me a little shaky thinking about what will come next....

      Thanks for your lovely wishes. <3

  4. Bless this post. You already know my problem--but luckily, the superhero story MC is being much less stubborn about crawling out of my brain. I think another of my problems with working on EW, besides that one MC doesn't really think/react like I do, is that the OTHER MC doesn't really think/react like I do. So I've got a dual PoV and neither of them are like me. (At least...not yet.) We'll see how they end up at the end of their arcs.

    I'll probably flip-flop between EW and the superhero story, because I want to finish EW, but I think the superhero story will be something to write to relieve stress. But yeah--if a writer isn't writing something they don't feel comfortable with, they aren't progressing as a writer.


    1. Bless YOU my friend. I'm so jealous that you have amazing ideas that you can work on FOR DIFFERENT PURPOSES. and I can't wait to read both of them. :)

  5. Yay! I'm so glad you had a breakthrough!! Keep those words coming :)

    I'm not sure if it's a breakthrough, rather than a realization, but when was starting on TB, I couldn't get anyone's voice to come to me. I kept writing anyway, and eventually I figured I needed a POV change from first to third. But...because I was comfortable in first, I started that way and it eventually lead to that realization. I think sometimes we just need to let the suck flow, try to get the words on paper, and we'll figure out the problem eventually :)

    I'm SO excited about Chrome and cannot WAIT to read it!!!

    1. Yeeeeeeah. I sense a LOT of editing down the pike for me, just because I think these words are allll kinds of sucky.

      But you're right. We can agonize about not starting, or we can just START, and hope the voice flows from that.

      <3 You are the BEST.

  6. Ok, so our posts are eerily alike today. I'm similarly terrified of leaving my comfort zone, but I'm determined to do it. And that might even include NOT having the story end happily, which I wouldn't have even considered two years ago. And #3 is probably going to be written in 1st person present, which I've also never done before.

    But if we don't grow as writers, I don't think we can really call ourselves writers, ya know?

    1. I know. Shared CP brain is getting a little creepy. (You know. In an AWESOME way.)

      1st person present is so so so much fun. It took me a couple days to get into it, b ut I LOVED writing Merrin that way. Can't WAIT to read this one, G. Seriously.

  7. Yay for writing breakthroughs!

    I adore this post, Leigh! It's giving me a lot of food for thoughts. In my current WiP, I am writing the main character using my own "voice." But even though certain aspects of her character mirror mine, at core, she is very, very different from me. Maybe that's why writing her has been such a difficulty. I'll have to try approaching it different (with writing exercises! which I've never done before either :)).

    1. I adore YOU, Emy. Serious.

      There's nothing WRONG with writing your own voice, obviously. Such an interesting combination, though! After this whole thing, I'm realizign that the important thing is to be AWARE of the voice.

      And, um...if you find any writing exercises that you love, will you send them my way??? kthx

  8. I think you've probably been writing far longer than I have, but I feel like I've had a couple of minor breakthroughs like this. With my first WiP I wrote it VERY fast, and only really got down the bare bones of the story. Now, months later -- after a rough patch of not knowing what to write -- I think it's finished.
    I'm also writing a superhero story in which the main character is a guy. THAT has been the most difficult for me so far. For some reason I can't pinpoint how to start it, and therefore I haven't been able to get it going. Kind of the same issue as you, except without so much world-building. It has a little (I'd call it contemporary fantasy, or maybe paranormal) but it takes place in the current time and on earth, not some other world like y first WiP.
    In my opinion, you're doing great if you can get those words on the page. It's a lot easier to edit something if it's written ;-)

    1. I've only been writing for fourteen months. So, I doubt it. :)

      Your superhero story sounds like so much fun! Mine had sparse worldbuilding as well, which was intentional too. :)

      "It's a lot easier to edit something if it's written" is exactly right. :))

  9. You rock in so many ways, Leigh Ann. I am constantly in awe.

    My MCs have not been very like me, but I can understand them fairly well nonetheless. It's the secondary characters that kill me! Lots and lots of rounds of revisions is what usually does it for me. :)

  10. It's a good sign if your stories evolve. If they didn't, you'd certainly be in trouble lol. I gave you a couple awards to boost your day! Pop over and get them when you get a minute. :-)