I was writing away like a mad woman the other day when I realized that I’d gotten sidetracked. It happens. My mind likes to take these little trips away from what I’m actually supposed to be writing and work on something else. Some of my best and worst stuff comes out of these little excursions.
My newest story was intended to be a fish out of water story about a symphony conductor who witnesses a murder and is stashed at a Southern Arizona ranch for a week while the Phoenix cops solve the case. There’d be some trouble on the ranch, the characters would have hot sex, the killer would show up, the heroine or the hero would save the day. Sort of a modern day western.
Like most of my great plans – it took a left turn at Albuquerque.
Somewhere along the line, I decided that I needed to do some research about my location. I’m a genealogist and a history buff. I like to know what I’m writing about. Like usual, I got hooked on my damn research. Two glorious days of reading about the history in the Santa Cruz river valley, its people and the ranches, ensued. It was fascinating stuff. But when I returned to writing my story – well, there I was in the middle of my book “sharing” this information in what I thought was a good little back story about the ranch. What should have been two paragraphs turned into four pages of ranch history. I can put all of that in, but not all at once, and certainly not in chapter three. Talk about bogging down a story.
The second problem I ran into was that I info dumped my characters. I’ve written their back stories and I know almost too much about them, and I just blurted it all out, taking away any interest or “mystery” as to why they behave the way they are behaving. “Hello, my name is Lynne. Let me vomit out my life history.” A rookie mistake to say the least.
The third problem is actually the thing that made me stop where I was and seek guidance from my mentor and a couple friends. I wrote a chapter about the cop and what was happening in Phoenix. I wanted to know more about him and the investigation and this seemed like a nice counterpoint to the ranch. I was planning to use the murder investigation as the story timeline. Well, the next thing I knew, I was writing the murder story and liking it. A few characters became many and four chapters later, I realized that my folks at the ranch were still standing in the kitchen. But I really like this cop and the story!
Realizing that I had a problem – the first step is admitting you need help – I sent bits and pieces off to three people. One went to a musician friend of mine to see if I had at least written that character correctly. One went to a trusted reader who pulls very few punches. And one when to my mentor, a fellow author who pulls even fewer punches. The responses were (bless their hearts) encouraging, but each pointed out exactly what I knew to be true. I have gotten lost in my own story.
My favorite comments:
“I liked the dog the best.” (So did I.)
“It’s not a bad story at all…” (A polite way of saying it ain’t good.)
“The first chapter was good.” (Clearly meaning the other three weren’t.)
“Who is the book about – the conductor or the cop?” (I was wondering that too.)
“I’m confused. Is this a suspense novel or historical fiction?” (Well, crap.)
“I like the cop and the foreman best.” (I like them too, but…)
Now you see what I mean about not pulling punches.
Writing a book has been equated to taking a journey without a map. Sometimes you take a few wrong turns, and while I happen to like those side trips, those roads don’t lead to my destination. It’s time to backtrack to the main road and decide just what the hell I am writing and whose story it is.
I better put on another pot of coffee.