“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”
– Terry Pratchett
Well, that’s one week of Camp NaNo in my rearview mirror, and I seem to be doing all right so far. This is a bit different from past NaNo endeavors, in that I’m not focusing on writing. Also, that I’m ahead of my goal. How’d that happen? This time, I’m telling myself the story. I’d discovered, last week, while talking with a critique partner, that I’d never bothered to write down the outline for Her Last First Kiss. Huh wuh? Nothing? Not a thing? Cue frantic flipping through notebooks both dedicated (those are new, so it didn’t take long) and multipurpose ones. Check any computer files that might possibly have been misfiled under a different name. Do a computer search for hero’s and heroine’s names. Nope, never did.
I’d classify myself as more of a puzzler than plotter or pantser, but I’m not labeling at this point. What I am doing is telling the story. The fact that I’ve been able to hold so much of it in my head, so clearly, for so long, is a good thing, but the stories we keep in our heads and nowhere else don’t get a lot of circulation. The scariest thing in the world would be to get to the end of my life and think “I could have been a successful writer.” Scratch the could be and replace with “am.” Successful, right now, means showing up and getting this story down. That’s all I have to do right now. Tell the story. There’s time enough after I get to the end of this draft to make things all pretty and get fancy with finishing touches. For now, the emphasis isn’t on how many words there are in the file but on getting the story told. How did we get from Once Upon a Time to Happily Ever After? With romance, we know the Happily Ever After Part is a gaurantee, like we know in a mystery that the detective will find out who committed the crime, but along the way? We can do anything. I think that’s pretty exciting.
In telling myself the story, I am discovering it. Though I do like to have an outline when I write the book, in the telling the story portion, surprises come up when they will, without me trying to shoehorn them in because that’s where they should fall according to beat sheet or pinch point or any other paradigm. Not saying those things aren’t useful; they are, and I love finding out how other writers work. Some of that stuff finds its way into my own process, and some remains an interesting tidbit that works better for others. Floating bits of unrelated things (this is one of the places where that puzzler thing comes in) bump into each other and bond, and, without my having put much thought into it, they make sense.
I really had no idea why my hero impulsively bought my heroine a cheaply made china dog, but then when she tells me (only writers understand fictional characters telling us what really happened) that she knew her father was leaving the family when he took his favorite hunting dog, there was that “oh” moment. So that’s what those things were all about. Okay, that gives me some structure. I know that my hero (I really should be using their names here, but want to keep that private for a while longer) and heroine had a conversation in which she mentioned dogs, though she doesn’t have any, and that it made an impression on him, which is why he picked that china dog (very clear in my head, and it’s actually kind of ugly) because he knew it would make her happy.
This process rather fits this book, because neither my hero nor heroine have that firm a grasp on what they’re doing. The whole falling in love thing isn’t for them, both believing they’re locked out of that game. They made plans. Love wasn’t in them. Funny, but it tends to find its way in ,anyway. Which is a lot like the process of discovering a story.
Also, we have ducks: