Writerly Wednesdays–Moving Forward

Finishing up one writing project is awesome. For a while, you’re riding high on the feeling of completion, and you’re still immersed in that world. I was, at least; I finished up Channing with such enthusiasm that I couldn’t stop. I wrote a few short “epilogues”. Getting wrapped up in a world is great. It’s kind of exhilarating, as if you just had the best day of your life.

And then you realize: you’re done. There’s really no more to write. I could keep writing little codicils to what’s effectively a complete story. But eventually, that becomes pointless and the ideas run dry. And it’s time to move on.

That’s where I am. There are a lot of reasons to keep churning. First of all, I love writing. The only way to get that happy feeling from completing a project is to have a project to complete. Second, it’s a hobby and I don’t quite know what to do with myself when I don’t have something to write. Third, it keeps me sharp. Yes, writing is in many ways like riding a bike. I don’t think you ever really lose the skills once you gain them. But you can get rusty, and more to the point, you stop improving. I feel like I’m getting further along the road to publication with every word I write–and to stop now would set me back on that upward trend. Most of all, I want to create. I want to do something I’m proud of. That something, for me, is writing.

In spite of my glowing descriptions of writing given above (see “enthusiasm”, “riding high”, and “great”), writing is, as Chuck from Supernatural says, “hard.” Sure, it looks easy. You toss some words onto a page. Any idiot with fingers can do it (actually, fingers aren’t mandatory now that there’s effective voice recognition software). But do the words make coherent sentences? Do they make a story? And hardest of all, does anyone other than the writer think they’re worth reading? Writing is a lonely affair–it’s usually just you and your imagination, trying to thrash out something worth reading. Like an acrobat, you have to make it look effortless.

For me, the mechanics are easy. My grammar is pretty good; I’ve gotten down the dialogue-exposition balance; I know how to vary sentences; I can describe things pretty well without being cliche or too purple (though I don’t think lush description is my forte); I’m pretty good at evoking the time period I’m writing about; I keep the logical flow; I choreograph my characters well enough that they don’t seem to be appearing, disappearing, and jumping from place to place. I got all that.

The trouble for me has always been the story. Don’t get me wrong; I have ideas. I have quite vivid flashes of ideas in my mind that play out almost exactly like dreams. These little scenas are almost always dialogue. So I have ideas–I have snatches of dialogue–but what I don’t have is a plot. Plot is more than a series of events. It’s rising and falling action. It’s a beginning, middle, and end. It’s theme and conflict.

My plot wall was invaluable in piecing together a plot for Channing. But now that Channing is finished, I’m looking at a disconnected, disparate pile of ideas. This is the phase I hate. With Channing, it took me years to collect up my ideas, toss them against the wall, find the ones that stuck, and then rearrange them into a story. I’m dreading that kind of slogging process at the moment. I don’t want to go through the labor of turning my ideas into a novel.

This is especially true because I’m not even sure these ideas merit a novel. I have a few little inspirations in my back pocket (one is non-historical, the other is historical but is still nothing more than a tiny nugget of an idea). But I’m actively, though desultorily, working on two other ideas. They’re currently the front runners.

The first idea is the story of a man who loses his arm during the Civil War. There is a supernatural element (or maybe he’s just shell-shocked and hallucinating) and a bit of romance. This was inspired by a story I critiqued for an online friend, which was a retelling of Beauty and the Beast in New Orleans. This story bears very little resemblance to the fairy tale (to any fairy tale), except for the hint of magic.The problem with this story is that there just isn’t enough material for a novel. At best, it will probably make it to novella length.

The second idea is an prequel for Channing. (See what I mean about not being able to let go?) It is, however, not exactly like Channing. It takes place thirty years earlier, and all of the main characters are dead before Channing even begins (so, no overlap). My thought was to bring these characters back to life, tell their tale, and put a twist on the things that were believed by the children. For example, everyone says that Everett’s father got an actress pregnant out of wedlock, refused to acknowledge his son, then drank himself to death. I want to give him good reasons for not marrying Everett’s mother and different kind of death. I also want to reveal that Charles and Archibald Daniels–Harry and Everett’s father respectively–weren’t just brothers, but identical twins. I love this idea to death because I purposefully play Harry and Everett off of each other; they have similar flaws and neruoses but end up as very different people. The fact that their fathers were identical twins strengthens this comparison and contrast–genetically, they’re half-brothers. The pro is that I like the story, and it has the scope to be a novel. The con is that I’m not moving on totally from Channing. It also will require a substantial amount of additional research.

So which of the two will I choose? It’s hard to say. Maybe neither. There are always those other ideas swimming around in the back of my mind . . .

PS. I know it’s Thursday night. It’s been a busy week, okay? Cut me some slack!

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