Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Beauty Sleep

A good night's rest is so important to our ability to function daily. Let me tell you. . .I slept great at the Broadmoor. I think the mattress had a goose down cover. Now, back at home, I realize that my 10-year-old mattress needs replaced. It is no longer a good foundation for my beauty sleep. I wake up tired and achy.

As I start to think about mattress shopping, I'm reminded of story proposal shopping and how all stories also need a good foundation on which to rest the process of building a healthy story.

I met with a few authors this past weekend who didn't have a fully developed story summary--not to mention having no chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the story development.

Too many authors take a lot of freedom under the guise of a "character-driven" story. They write and wait for the character to develop the plot as they go. So even when the author had a pretty interesting character's story, if they couldn't tell me how the story would evolve and come to an end, that really turned me off from wanting to pursue the book proposal.

We've seen a thing happen with established authors, too, where they propose a story summary that we contract on, but they turn in a manuscript that has greatly deviated from the original summary. This causes a problem when we are creating marketing copy and other promotional materials based on the original proposal. In trade fiction, we could even be presenting the book's theme to a store buyer before the editors read through the complete manuscript.

So having your story plan laid down before you finish writing the manuscript is so important in these ways:
  • - helps the publisher proceed with early sales and publicity presentations.
  • - helps the publisher develop an appropriate cover.
  • - helps the author avoid writer's block on those days when the characters aren't "talking" all that much.
  • - helps the character and plot development move at a steady, believable pace and progression.
  • - helps the author avoid surprises -- like getting two-thirds of the way through the book and realizing the story needs a scene set in a taxidermy shop but the author doesn't have a clue about the look, feel, smell, taste, etc of such a shop. Soon the writing schedule is derailed as the author rushes off to do necessary research.
  • - helps to manage word count as the author writes. A chapter-by-chapter summary can help the author know how the word count will develop along with each scene and plot mile marker. Without a chapter-by-chapter summary, the author can risk wrapping up the story short of the needed word count, stretching the story over a sagging (dull) middle, or having to wrap up the end of the book too quickly due to being short on available word count.
Let me encourage you to start up front and lay down a good support for your story.

Have you experienced problems in writing due to running without a proper story plan in place?


Cara Putman said...

I have found that my chapter-by-chapter summaries really make the books easier to write. I know exactly where the plot is moving next, and even if I deviate a bit, I still have the main thread and know the end point. It makes the historicals easy to write -- once all the research is complete and I know the characters that is :-)

Erica Vetsch said...

I'm walking that fine line between needing to know where I'm going and not feeling a prisoner to an outline.

I think I've found a happy medium; enough structure to see the framework I'm trying to build, and enough leeway to loose the creative part of me to form the storyworld crashing around in my head.

Vickie said...

I really disliked writing chapter-by-chapter outlines when I first submitted to Heartsong. I thought it would take the fun out of writing the book, but instead, I've discovered there's a security in knowing where the book is going. The chapter-by-chapter summary is a road map that shows me where my story is going, but it doesn't reveal every detail, leaving lots of room for creativity.

Mary Connealy said...

I've actually been writing a very, very abbreviated ch x ch outline for all my books.
I've got like a page summary of the overall story, then I'll break it down, just raw broken sentences that I paste to the end of the manuscript and push along ahead of me as I write. Sometimes I'll adjust them, add, subtract, find out a sentence grows into two or three chapters one time, then find out a sentence builds into only a meager scene the next time. So it's flexible, but it really helps keep me on track. And I erase the lines of the ch snop as I write them so the snop gets shorter as the story grows and if it all works right, I erase the last snop lines when I write 'The End'

Myra Johnson said...

Writing a CxC snop is definitely intimidating for SOTP writers like me. Granted, I try to flesh out the characters and determine the main plot points before I actually start writing, but it's actually writing out each scene that helps me see what's going to (or should) happen next.

Anybody planning a "How to Write a CxC Synopsis" workshop for the next ACFW conference??? I'd attend!

Pam Hillman said...

This reminds me of my father-in-law's reputation as a carpenter. He's well-known for producing beautiful homes for his customers with personal touches that evolve as the house progresses.

He starts with one of those mega-page-detailed house plans that will boggle your mind (I'm sure some of you have seen those things!), and he sticks to that plan like tile glue.

The ditches are dug and cement footings are poured to perfection, the plumbing goes where it's supposed to, the slab is poured and smoothed to a perfect finish. Then the frame is built to military precision with the proper squaring in place. All pretty boring and the same-ol-same-ol, right? But now is not the time to deviate from the plan because those details are what makes a strong foundation and square structure for the building.

It gets exciting when he spends HOURS building the customer a custom-made mantel or a carved staircase, or tucking storage space into an odd niche between the kitchen and the fireplace. Or building a little desk for the six year-old in the dormer window upstairs.

At open house celebrations, I've never heard people brag about how square the house is or how firm the foundation, they're too busy admiring all the "icing" he puts on the cake. :-)

Becky said...

Good analogy, Pam. Thanks.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Hey, I heard there was a Seeker party at Barbour so I thought I'd stop in, bring some carrot cake and cappuccino...


I love Pam's analogy, and not just because I love Pam, but because she's right.

And while I'm a 'pantser' like Myra, I never go into a story blind. Who has time to waste?

My outline is simple, concise and to the point so that I don't go off on tangents (because I have in the past) or lose time (because life is crazy busy) or mess up my story arc from A-to-Z.

So while I don't break it down in a C x C configuration, it's the same idea without a timeline. But I also use the idea of a C x C synopsis when writing a standard synopsis because this takes me into a more technical writing mode, away from my creative habits. I can be more succinct and to the point, not wasting an editor's time and space.

And because a Seeker friend dared me to enter a contest with no book written, I am having lots of fun scrambling to finish that new book because the entry finaled and is putting me to the test of following that outline.

And it's working.


Tiff (Amber Miller) Stockton said...

I confess to being one of those authors who enjoy letting the characters lead the way. However, I also have a basic outline in mind and plotted out, just not in great detail. So, I can stay within the framework as I write.

Although the chapter-by-chapter is grueling to write for this intuitive writer, once I do sit down to write the chapters, the fact that I have a specific number of chapters and scenes helps me gauge needed word count to reach the overall goal.

Great advice here!

Even if you don't do something as detailed as a chapter-by-chapter, at least have an idea of the plot points along the way that drive the story forward and approximately how many words you'll be using for each significant part of your book.