I'm writing again finally! Putting this blog together seems to make it easier to sit down at my computer. It's less stressful to write the blog because I don't need to keep so many threads in place in my head, nor pause to do Internet research when I get stuck not knowing my subject matter well enough.
When I wrote Arrowstar, it seemed as if the vast space given to a novel quickly became an endless desert I kept struggling to cross. The more I wrote, the less tightly written I felt the book became as I tired to "make it long enough."
I'm a student of journalism and having taken newswriting courses at Arizona State University back in the 80s, I'd learned how to communicate the news using the least amount of words possible. Tackling a novel gave me freedom to describe people and places in great detail, while keeping in mind the admonition that each tidbit I choose to include must contribute something vital to the storytelling.
The number of pages in a novel varies according to what font you might be using and where your page margins are set. It also varies with the page layout chosen for publication. I've found "number of words" to be the best measure of my writing progress on a novel. I finally realized this as I wrote Arrowstar. I felt the book was complete, but I struggled on with the writing because the number of pages I'd written didn't seem right. Then, when I began looking at word count, I knew I could trust my gut feeling it was time to wrap up the writing.
I consulted several resources about word count for the various kinds of novels and found the length I needed varied from 50,000 words up to 120,000. I settled on somewhere between 70,000 and 80,000 to judge my creative progress. Knowing those numbers helps me determine where I am in the story arc.
As I outlined this novel (something I couldn't seem to do with Arrowstar), I divided the novel into the three obvious sections all writing manuals list: Beginning, Middle, and End. Then I began thinking within those boundaries. I lost focus by the time I got halfway through the Middle section, so the rest of the outline seems sketchy now that I've reached that point.
I need the characters to speak to me as I write and let the story take shape in the process. However, it has been a plus up to this point knowing where the next chapter would lead.
Looking at a story arc diagram today, I realized how it would have served me well to think about the "crisis" points in this story in more depth when creating my outline. The arc suggests a couple of "bumps in the road" for the characters as the story ramps up followed by two more "crisis" points halfway through the middle leading up to the climax and falling action.
Another thing I read today made me think about how a focus on the characters and their troubles, personalities, wants, needs and desires must drive the plot. If I focus more on where the characters want to go, then the plot will work itself out just by letting the characters live in the story!
It makes sense to me looking at plot development that way, so today I'll pay more attention to what my characters are trying to tell me. However, I'll also need to take some time to research some of the finer points of ranching. Although I've had dreams of being a cowgirl, I'm really nothing more that an "urban cowgirl." I know zilch about ranching and turning a profit doing it.
Here's what cheered me up considerably yesterday as I got serious about getting more words into this story: I've written a bit more than 30,500 words. That means I'm quickly sneaking up on the middle of the story! I'll have to hustle to finish by the end of the year, but now I feel like I can drive toward the end and begin the fun editing that ensues when smoothing out the more subtle and finer points of the story.
Here's today's little light bulb: Structure, routines, goals and maps help give meaning and direction to living, and that same scaffolding holds the elements of a novel together.