Starting Over

Welcome! It’s another steamy Tuesday in the Berkshires. My garden is well in bloom and loving the sunshine, warmth, and afternoon thundershowers.Garden

PJ here, and I am about to embark on another journey–both on and off the page. I’ll be leaving next week for Atlanta for the National Romance Writer’s Convention. I look forward to filling you all in on the action while I’m away (check out tweets by following me @pjsharon and using hashtag #rwa2013, or catch up with me on Facebook @pjsharonbooks for pics of who’s who and what’s happening). Although I’m looking forward to all the workshops, networking, opportunities, and fun with my writer buds, what I’m most looking forward to is a boost of enthusiasm to dig into my next project, book three in the Chronicles of Lily Carmichael trilogy. Though conferences can be exhausting, I always come home energized and raring to write, so the timing couldn’t be better.

Most writers will agree that the happiest words we write are “THE END.” At the same time, I think many will also agree that the most daunting words we write are “Chapter One.”

It’s hard to believe I’m starting over yet again. I can honestly say it’s still as bitter sweet and anxiety provoking an endeavor as I have ever faced. Sitting in front of a blank page can be the most exciting moment for a writer, or the most terrifying—usually both in equal measure for me. So here I find myself having to put another 80,000 or more words on the page in some semblance of an entertaining tale. Being that this will be the final in a trilogy, I have a lot riding on making this my best story yet. As added pressure, I need to write it and publish it in the next nine months so as not to lose readers who are awaiting the final installment, and to meet the general standards of the publishing industry. It’s tough out there, and to compete in such an overcrowded market, I have to continue to produce quality fiction in a timely manner. That’s the business woman in me speaking—the grown-up.

But when I break down the details of all that needs to go into making that deadline, I immediately want to take another week off and rest up a bit more (my inner teen in total rebellion). “It’s summer vacation,” she whines. “All work and no play…,” she cajoles. I let her have her way for another day and then my inner mom grounds her and takes away her TV until she gets that blog post done and starts outlining her scenes. It’s hard being the grown-up, but somebody’s got to do it.

Since I can ignore the publishing/promo part until about 3-5 months out from deadline, I can focus just on the task of writing the book. Easy-peasy, right? I’ve done this a few times before. A thousand words a day and I’ll have my first draft done in three months. That leaves six months for multiple edits and all that goes into polishing a manuscript before it goes to print. I don’t know about you guys, but each book has been a completely different process for me. Hopefully, my process has evolved enough that this time it will be easier. Of course, this is my first trilogy so that makes it more complicated…a lot more complicated.

I have tons of loose ends to wrap up and have to find ways of weaving bits of backstory in so readers aren’t totally lost if they missed something in WANING MOON or WESTERN DESERT. I have to up the stakes, force my characters to face their demons, and carry them through their arc to completion in this book. They must overcome their fatal flaws, win out over the villain, and find their hopefully ever after, maybe even saving the world while their at it. I could easily stretch this into a series of four books, but since I marketed a trilogy, I’m stuck, LOL. So a lot of what I’ need to do in the planning is narrow my focus to what absolutely has to happen in this book. There will be NO tangential literary diversions!

Luckily, I have a lot of tools to get me started and keep me on track. Casey Wyatt has outlined her method, which appears very straight forward and doable. I am anxious to try her approach, although I’ve learned from so many other great teachers in this business that my process will surely be a hybrid of hers, theirs, and mine. A quick breakdown of my plan looks like this:

1) Summarize the story/create tag line– I totally agree with Casey on this one. It is really helpful to understand the bare bones of what your story is about before jumping in. It saves a lot of writing in circles and editing later.

2) Identification of characters-I know Casey likes a very superficial view at this point, but since I’ve already written two books about these characters,  I’ll use this step to update and add details to my Series Bible (a notebook I developed to keep character traits, appearance, weapons, and world building details straight). I will also take time during this step to begin working on my character grids (outlining each character’s internal and external goal, motivation, and conflict, the inciting incident, fatal flaw of each character–what they must overcome within themselves to find their HEA). By now, I should know my characters well enough that these questions shouldn’t be too hard to answer.

3) Three Act Story structure-Like Casey, I learned the three act play story structure that outlines the beginning, middle, and end of every story, but after taking a Michael Hague workshop several years ago, I had the opportunity to delve a little deeper into how to progress through those three acts. His technique helped me to better understand the structure behind the stories we create. He breaks  it down into stages consisting of SETUP, NEW SITUATION, PROGRESS, COMPLICATIONS & HIGHER STAKES, the FINAL PUSH, and the AFTERMATH. He also taught me that pacing is controlled in part by appropriately placed turning points (a sure cure for the sagging middle). The first turning point, he describes as the OPPORTUNITY (aka: inciting incident), followed by a CHANGE OF PLANS (aka: call to action), POINT OF NO RETURN (about half-way through), MAJOR SETBACK (Dark Moment), and CLIMAX. Working this all out on index cards, a poster board, or in an outline combines Casey’s step four (the meat and potatoes of plotting), and step five (scene development on index cards).

Being a pantser by nature, all of this plotting, planning and prep work requires a bit of self-discipline and a tight rein on my inner rebellious teen, who would like nothing better than to jump in and write willy-nilly in complete denial of the consequences (such as dead ends, tangential diversions, and lots of unnecessary editing later on), but it’s a good thing that grown-up me is in control, right?

Hmmm…maybe I’ll just wait to get started until after I get back from Atlanta. After all…it is summer vacation and all work and no play…well, we all know what that does. I hope to see some of you at the conference!

I’d love to hear your feedback on my plan. Any tips, suggestions, or questions are welcome.

26 thoughts on “Starting Over”

  1. Paula, another save of a great post. Thank you. I need an outline for each scene. Once that is written, then the rest is well, not easy, but just not as hard. I’ll see you in Atlanta. Have a great trip with the gang. Tom and I are driving. Our daughter and her family live there, so we will have double the fun!

  2. Thanks for a great post, PJ. This may be a trilogy, but it doesn’t have to be the end of your world. You could always write a prequel (focusing on characters who might not make it through the trilogy), or you could spin off letting one of your minor characters be the hero/heroine. Or you could create an entirely new character for a new series, then in book 3 the characters from the Lily Chronicles could meet up with the characters from the new series. Mix and match–just like your wardrobe for RWA nationals! 🙂 Can’t wait to see what’s in store for Lily and Will in book 3!

    1. Thanks for stopping in, Julia. i know my process is still evolving. There is so much to know about the craft of writing and endless resources to figure out what works for each person. I hope one day to have it down to the “Nora Roberts” level of production:-)

    1. Plotting hasn’t come easy for me, despite my need for organization and planning in life. My nature is just to dig in and tell the story that is in my head. But through trial and error…lots of error, I’ve found that some amount of planning saves me a lot of head aches and time on the back end. Taking my time and doing the preliminary stuff makes a huge difference! Thanks for the visit, Clover!

  3. I appreciate your inner teenager as well as your inner adult. There is room in your life for both each day. I enjoy your stories whether they are written or verbal. See you at The Top!

  4. Paula, best wishes as you tackle book three of your trilogy. I totally admire you! Writing a trilogy makes me shake in my boots! I’ve heard a lot about Michael Hague and his plot process. I agree that it can be a challenge for a pantser to convert to plotter! Ha! Have a super time in Atlanta.

  5. Thank you for sharing – I’m just about to embark on Book 2 of my trilogy and, like you, I prefer to be a pantser, but realised that I must now sit down and plot! Quite daunting.
    Your ruminations on the process give me some framework, particularly the extra bits fleshing out the 3 acts, will be a great help 🙂

  6. Hey PJ, thanks for a great post. I, too, am about to begin a followup to my first paranormal thriller, Premonition of Terror; the title will be Premonition of … TBD. I have no idea where I’m going, but characters are well-developed so I’m tempted to follow them until I lock onto their next nightmare. “Terror” was outlined in detail so the pantser process scares the willies out of me. I’ve been advised to write the second book as if the first had been Chapter One. Something about that feels right to me. I’ll try to hold onto my new mantras: “Be Fearless” by thriller author Michael Palmer, and “Don’t Panic” by Kristan Higgins. Best of luck to you.

    1. All good advice, Kathryn. Right back at you on the “luck.” I love how Deepak Chopra describes luck as “the meeting of preparedness and opportunity.” Thanks for stopping in.

  7. Great info PJ. I printed out your Michael Hauge synopsis as I plan to get back into fiction writing very soon and have to replot a novel. about the trilogy issue,-just write that 4th book and don’t worry about it, especially if you feel it needs to be written. If need be you could always remarket-and edit out the “trilogy” word.

    1. Thanks for the suggestion, Joy. I’ll think on that:-) I think Jane had a good idea with the spin-off series plan. It’s either that or this last one will be a monster of a book! Good luck with re-plotting your next novel!

  8. Great article PJ – thank you! I’m also a pantser, but am learning to use organizational tools early on. I’m finding it gives me path to follow. I don’t always stick with it, but it certainly has helped.

    1. Isn’t that the beauty of this art form? There is no one/right way to do it and everyone has their own writer’s journey to explore and find what works for them. I used to think that if I plotted out my story there would be no point in writing it since the character’s taking me to mysterious places was what gave me such joy in my process in the first place. But now that I’ve found some tools to keep me more focused, I’m finding that having the structure is really helpful–and everything in between those turning points that I’ve carefully planned, is still a joyous mystery. Thanks for stopping for a chat:-)

  9. I wish I was going to the conference, would love to have gotten together. Have a really great time!!!! And it’s okay to take a little break. : )

    1. Thanks, Donna. The conference should be a great time. Wish you were going, too. In regards to taking a break, I have no problem with taking it easy for a few days, but procrastination makes me anxious, so I’m sure I’ll jump in again with both feet very soon.

      In the mean time, I’m very busy with my day job trying to squeeze clients into my schedule before I go next week. Don’t worry, I’m already planning a few hours by the pool when I get to the hotel on Tuesday:-)

  10. So, as one who has been lucky enough to read about your experiences (which you have so willingly shared) from day one I would like to tell you that you are awesome. You are thoughtful, informed, and as organized as a pantser can be (trust me, I know how hard that can be) and then you just go out there and not only do it but do it well. Keep it up!

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