I’ve been playing around with an idea for a novel-length manuscript for some time. I hatched the idea on a road trip through Nebraska and Northeastern Kansas last October. It’s a story about two brothers who come to a small Kansas town late in the summer of 1975. The younger brother is running from something – a terrible experience that haunts him, pursues him. The older brother settles in among the townsfolk easily enough, but he accidentally digs up something from the past that sets off a horrific run of murders.
I’m barely brushing the surface here – the story gets real weird real quick.
I spent all of January and February working through the details of the story. I re-read all my Joseph Campbell, Syd Field, Robert McKee, Burroway, VanderMeer, Mort Castle, Orson Scott Card, and Rittenberg & Whitcomb. I delved into a little fiction inspiration from Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe, Dan Simmons, Lovecraft, Jack McDevitt, and horror-newcomer Robert Jackson Bennett. I also received some sage advice from writers Christie Yant and Erika Holt.
I then went to work developing my characters and white-boarding all the story elements. I wrote a 6,000-word summary of all the action (chapt. by chapt.) and drew up my call sheets for each scene (an old film director’s trick).
Helping me out with the period details and the mood, I have maps, charts, diagrams, two dozen overdue library books, and an iTunes playlist chock-full of music from the period (Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Creedence, KISS, Van Morrison, The Eagles, Aerosmith, and The Doobies).
As any writer will tell you, it then comes down to the real work.
One of my writer friends – a fine fellow named Jacob Ruby – was a bit amazed at the two-month prep run-up to the first day of actual writing.
Hey, every writer’s process is different, I told him. My process is highly-detailed and controlled. As I write, I know exactly where I am in the story – and I know where I’m going.
So, why all the trouble?
From all my reading and training in the screenwriting arena (something I’m now certain that I will never try to get in to), I know that every story must have a solid beginning, middle, and end (or Act 1, Act 2, Act 3). And along the way there are a certain number of elements that must be included to keep the reader actively engaged as your story unfolds.
I am not the type of writer who likes to jump right into a story and hope that I don’t crap out half-way through the Second Act. To me, that’s poor planning.
I am also not the type of writer who will bang out 1,500 pages of wandering copy, in hopes that I can salvage 300 pages of good stuff that may be publishable. To me, that’s wasted time.
So, yes – I spent two months working on my story concept (filling in all the little buckets), drawing up character descriptions, outlining, researching, and correcting everything I could find. As I don’t have a lot of personal time to waste, I know that it much easier to fix a 6,000 word story summary than it is to fix a 125,000-word completed manuscript. And I think it would be hard to argue against that logic.
So, my 125,000-word story should be completed in six months. I have a writing goal every day. I’ll spend two months with some lovely beta readers and then tackle the edits. If I come away with a piece of storytelling that’s engaging and great, I’ll take it to the World Fantasy Convention in October and show it around to a few people.
In the end, some of my fellow writers may think I’m nuts. They may be right. But the proof of any writing process is in the finished material. If you can write from chapter to chapter and not lose control of your story – and if you can complete your story as originally envisioned – your personal process probably works.