Jilly: Shiny New Story

Shiny New StoryDid you recently finish a project, or complete a challenge, or pass a milestone, or do something else you’re proud and pleased about?

As I may have mentioned once or twice (ahem – I’m a little over-excited about it), I finally finished Dealing With McKenzie. Some (most) of the other Ladies have written multiple books, so they’ve been here before, but this is a new and shiny moment for me. I’m making a start on the sequel and since I don’t have a word of it down yet, I thought I’d try and bottle my feelings of excitement and optimism since right now, the new story is probably the most perfect it will ever be 🙂 .

It took me roughly three years to write DWM. A year to write the first draft; a year worrying, analyzing and agonizing about it as part of the McDaniel Romance Writing program; and last year back at the drawing board, re-writing the whole damn thing, getting feedback, and doing it all over again. I began to think it would never end.

In On Writing, Stephen King says that the first draft of a book should take no longer than three months. Now I have an idea what that means, I’m going to see if I can do it this time around. I plan to start writing at the beginning of February, and I’d like to have a draft done by the end of April. My plan is to have it polished by the time RWA National comes around in July.

I have no idea whether this is possible, but I’m telling myself it is, because this time around I know all sorts of things that tripped me up and sent me down rabbit holes with DWM. Here’s a selection of the most important things I know now, that I wish I’d known when I set out on this writing journey three years ago:

Whose story it is
Sounds obvious, but for two of the three years I wrestled with DWM, I didn’t know whether it was Rose’s story or Ian’s. In the first year I didn’t realize that it mattered. It’s their love story and they both experience the same key events, so isn’t it a moot point? No, it most definitely is not. Ian and Rose’s love story as told by Rose to one of her friends would not be the same as the story told by Ian to one of his. The critical events in the development of the story would be different depending on which character was telling it. When I finally understood that it mattered, I thought there was a right answer, and I thought Jenny would tell me. It took me another age to realize that the only person who could decide which character owned the story was me.

This time around, it was easier. I’ve been describing the new book as Cam’s story, but it only took me a day or two to work out that it belongs to Mary, Ian’s super-efficient executive assistant and miracle worker. Cam is the antagonist, and he’s smarter, faster, stronger and more powerful – when he can be bothered.

What kind of story it is
There are plenty of other elements in the book, but it’s a love story, which means I want Mary and Cam on the page together, lots. I need all the main turning points to be changes in the relationship between Mary and Cam, and all the sub-plots to drive that story. It took me forever to figure out that’s what I wanted from DWM.

That also means that I only want two POV characters – Mary and Cam. Sasha will make another brimstone appearance, but this time I won’t give her a voice and have to take it away when I discover she’s getting in the way of the main story.

What the main characters want, and how they change
I knew Ian’s goal, but I nearly drove myself to distraction figuring out Rose’s, and working out how to make their goals incompatible. I already know what both Mary and Cam want, and I’m delighted to say they’re butting heads from the beginning 🙂 .

How the story ends
One of Pixar’s 22 rules for great storytelling is # 7. Come up with your ending before you finish your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front. Last time, my first draft was a mess. The beginning was all about Rose and the ending was all about Ian. I figured it out eventually, but I swear I’m not going through that again. I don’t know exactly what happens with Mary and Cam, but I do know exactly how the story is resolved.

There are a million tiny details to discover, but the story takes place in a world that is already developed, with characters that already exist on the page. I feel as if I know them, though not as well as I intend to.

So today the sun is shining, I’m full of the happy, and I can’t wait to get started. I remember Jenny saying in class at McD that she learned a new set of lessons with every new book, so I’m posting the good stuff now so I can refer back to it in a month or two, when Mary and Cam have become That Damn Book.

How about you? Have you learned anything lately that you think will make your life easier this year?

12 thoughts on “Jilly: Shiny New Story

  1. It’s so terrific that you’ve finished the book! And are ready to start the new one! I think we’ve all learned a lot at McDaniel (and just by doing a zillion rewrites), but I’m not sure that helps us when we’re staring down at the abyss, not knowing what to do next. I think experience and understanding helps us after we’ve written something, though. I just remember Jenny and Patricia Gaffney at that 8am session at RWA when somebody asked them if it got easier. Jenny banged her head on the table, and Patricia Gaffney leaned back and laughed. So, I’m thinking…it probably doesn’t get easier.

    • I’m pretty sure it doesn’t get any easier, Kay. My brain knows it’s going to be Different Story, Different Problems, but right now my Girls don’t care. They’re running around yelling “whee!”

      I’m expecting that this post will give me/us a good laugh (and maybe a little encouragement) in a few months’ time when All Is Doom 🙂 .

      • That just means you need to enjoy the high points (ie now) to get you through the crummy bits. But it’s also just occurred to me that you also need to enjoy other people’s high points – I know that seeing your enjoyment of this moment is cheering me up and keeping me going because one day THAT WILL BE ME!

  2. I’m so glad to see you having this moment–and treasuring it. My particular fantasy is that, now that I actually understand how plotting works (But and therefore! Mutually exclusive goals!) the next one will be easier than the previous five have been, but I can already tell that’s not’s true. What does seem to be true is that what comes out the other end is much more readable.

    That will have to be enough.

  3. I have trouble with getting bogged down and not writing because I don’t have it all figured out before I start. I know in my head that I just need to write the bad, boring stuff so I have something to fix, but I can’t seem to actually do that. Hopefully, 2015 will be my year to unblock.

    • You’re the only one of us with a hard deadline, and a double incentive to write through your block. I have no doubt you’ll do it, Michille.

  4. (-: 2014 was a good year for many of the Eight Ladies as far as finishing goes. I’m proud of all of you!

    I’ve written a few first drafts, all the way to the end, but it’s not the same as finishing. The first draft is really a lot of fun, and in this one, I’m trying to let my Girls run free without leashes (like plot, goals, etc.). I think I might be a writer who needs to play in the sandbox during the first draft, and then should settle down, throw away the words and keep the story, and rewrite the second draft.

    Three months sounds like a fabulous time limit. (-: But that means my playtime is over on Feb. 1. I’m going to aim for March 21 as the deadline for “the end” of the first draft. I might get it done a lot sooner, but I don’t want a lot of pressure right now.

    I definitely want to be done with the book by Nov. 1. I like doing NaNo (even if I twist the rules so much no one recognizes it as a NaNo) so I want the decks clear by then.

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