This week did not turn out to be what I was anticipating. Glenn and I had to cancel our trip to Killer Nashville because both my vertigo and my arthritis decided to take over my life for a while. I seem to be getting better today. I’m sorry I had wasn’t able to be on the interesting panels I was assigned, but I’ll be they were great. I also missed the Friday night drink with all the Guppies who were attending. Here’s a belated toast to all of you.
I’m finishing up on a manuscript which will become the third book in my Big Lake Murder mysteries. It’s entitled Scream Muddy Murder. I’ve been having fun writing it…up to now. I’m within 20,000 words of the end, close enough that I think I know who the killer is. You might think that last statement is odd, but when I’m writing as a pantser, which is what I’m doing with this manuscript, my writing adventure is different from when I plot, which I do for books with a deadline. When I write without an outline I like to monitor how I feel about what I’m writing. Here’s how writing by the seat of your pants feels for me.
The Easy-Peasy Stage
I begin with an idea which includes who will be killed, how and under what circumstances. My murder usually comes in the first 10 pages. In the case of Scream Muddy Murder, I keep consistent with what my character has done in the past: she stumbles over, onto and into bodies. For several chapters I lay out possible motives for the murder, begin creating scenes in which my protagonist becomes more involved in the case and learns more about people who might be the killer. It always amazes me how the pages roll out with ease here. This is the easy-peasy stage of writing for me.
The Meatloaf Stage
For the next stage of writing I begin to get more detailed: introducing, refining or underscoring subplots, taking my characters through their daily lives as affected by the murder. Here the fun is seeing the characters interact with one another. Bringing false closure to some of the lines if inquiry I’ve laid out, only to throw that back into te4h stew and let these events simmer for a bit longer. I go back and forth in chapters, often going back to a previously written chapter to remove something I’ve found I don’t want to follow up or adding a detail to make a later scene at this stage of my writing. There is less emotional joy in my writing at this point because I’m writing now with an eye to framing the plot with my second plot point. This is the place where the writer’s ability to connect the dots, i.e., the logic of the connectedness among scenes and actions drives the tension and propels the story toward its ending. And, oh, yes. I’m toward the end of this stage in my writing. And, no. I don’t know who the killer is. So, you can see, I, the writer am still on the edge of my seat and feeling excited about what I’m creating. This excitement will continue on unabated even through making everything fall apart for my protagonist.
The Cooking-It-‘Til-Done Stage
Now comes the really difficult part, at least for me. I’ve put it all in and now it’s time to see how I can make it turn out. This could be the Oops-I-Goofed stage where nothing hangs together and I have to go back and rewrite again and again. If you “pants” stuff, this is a real possibility. I now know who the killer is and must direct my attention to collecting all of the red herrings, dead ends, falsely accused killers, innocent bystanders and subplots into a final ending that makes both emotional and rational sense. I must check and recheck that all the ends aren’t out there blowing around in the wind, but instead are neatly braided into a satisfying ending. Sometimes making sense of all the chaos I’ve created feels like hard work, and it is. Endings are important and so often disappoint by simply tapering off. I like to give my protagonist a final cliff to fall off of to keep tension up until her lips meet those of her love interest. And who’s to say I won’t jeopardize their romantic ending? I like to keep things hanging.
I have not determined if any aspects of these stages apply when I have a detailed outline, but I do know that I have violated every one I’ve created. I know flagrant abandonment of an outline comes in the second stage where I create the most adventures for my characters. It is in the middle of the Meatloaf Stage that plot twists and turns as well as character developments deep me from sleep late at night. What about you? What keeps you up at night?