Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Where's the Love?

I thought I'd start my OA posting history with where I am right now in my writing life. My first novel is due to be released into the wild this November, and for now, it is in the hands of an editor. So I got organized and developed a fantastic idea for a shiny new project (something to keep me busy while I wait).

All of my characters showed up the first day, each dutifully carrying note cards with character traits and arcs and a very clear outline of my expectations. And after the first 1,500 words, they got up and left.

Hello!? I need this first draft by the end of February! My goal seems completely reasonable, and I know I can write awesome first drafts—I've got one simmering as proof! What's going on here?  

Let's call my characters Team A and Team B. Team A has been around for years. They check in at all hours of the day and night, and I can count on them being ready to go at 5am, when I write best. They'll do anything I ask, and I don't argue when they say I'm wrong. Heck, even when I'm pretty sure what they want will be nothing more than a "candy bar" scene, I'm always willing to let them have a little fun. They've earned it!

Team B? They have no clue what's going on. Sometimes I think they sleep in 'til 3pm. Don't they know I'm long-gone by then, picking up the kids from school? Sheesh! And their eagerness to correct me all the time is not helping this first draft, it's putting a screeching halt to it.

So, I came to the creative conclusion that this issue is not about my skills as a writer (thank goodness). It's about the relationship I have with this new set of characters. They don't know me, I don't know them. I assumed they'd have the same work ethic as Team A, because, you know, I'm the author! I am not going to change what I've been doing successfully for years and years. Am I?

So, Team B and I got together for a pow-wow session and here's what I learned:

1. Where Team A was love-at-first-sight, Team B is more like an arranged marriage. We're going to have to get to know each other before we can expect to make anyone truly happy.

2. Team B is tired of being compared to Team A.

3. Team B doesn't reject my overall plan, but they don't trust me with the details.

4. With every wrong assumption I make in this first draft, they lose respect and motivation to participate. (Apparently, I've been wrong quite often)

5. They want more freedom and I'm not trusting them to stick to the plan. (Yeah, that's true.)

6. They don't like acoustic guitar, nor do they like silence. They want upbeat dance music during writing sessions (ugh).

7. Relaxing candle scents make the two youngest characters gag.

8. They don't care if my work space is organized, and get annoyed by the unnecessary delay if I take a moment to put things away. So basically, if I'm not ready when they are, they're not going to be ready when I am, just to make their rebellious point. (This one makes me mad—total lack of respect.)

9. They like chaos and crowds of people. If I can't find them when I need them, they will NOT be waiting in the orchard next to the river for a private pep-talk. They will be at the mall with their friends, one in the arcade, the other in the food court, texting her best friend who's sitting at the same table.

But the most important thing I learned from this WiP time-out, is that I'm trying to write this first draft as if it was a final draft, wasting precious time guessing at details I can't possibly know yet. The point of this draft is to test the overall plot and get to know the characters, to see how much stress each one can handle. Because nothing is set in stone at this point—not my writing routine, the PoV, personality traits, voice... not even the main character.

I never thought I'd say the characters aren't important, but maybe Team B should play elsewhere while I work out these first draft details—that way I can test some ideas without being ridiculed to death. (I swear they're worse than the "internal editor". SO dang picky.)

Right now, my only goal is to write the bones. I'll be more than happy to let the characters add heart, soul, and flesh to the story on the very first round of editing, after I've gotten to know them on a more personal level. I might even let them add a few scenes as incentive if they'll agree to keep quiet for now.

Anyone else having first draft issues, where everything is an obstacle and there's no love or motivation to make it work?

And here's a funny thing... this quote found its way to me today. ‎"We should be taught not to wait for inspiration to start a thing. Action always generates inspiration. Inspiration seldom generates action," Frank Tibolt

As of this moment, I would reply with, "But action seems so pointless when there's no inspiration."
Fake it 'til you make it? 


Susan Francino said...

I'm not writing a first draft of anything at the moment, but your Team A vs. Team B issues sound like a problem character I have in a current WiP--he's just harder to pin down than the others were, for some reason...

Becky Mahoney said...

Hahaha, I love this! I love my current project, but it is super-slow-going and has been from the start. I need to let every chapter percolate for a couple days (or weeks!) before I can get going on it.

Eliza Tilton said...

I am going through the same exact thing. Literally.

Awesome book #1 is w/my editor and I'm waiting on notes.

Current wip, which has such a hooky commercial appeal, is dragging, and I'm also trying to finish the first draft this month. I'm not emotionally tied to these characters. It's like an awkward first date.

The only thing that has worked so far is this: just write whatever come to mind. The other night, I sat with my glass if merlot, and just wrote. Ended up creating a scene with a new seconday character and started liking my mc a bit more.

This may be the worst first draft to the best book I've ever written lol

Eliza Tilton said...

Sorry for the typos. I can never type on my phone.

Angelica R. Jackson said...

My first draft issues usually involve identifying with my characters too much--which means I don't want to make things too hard for them. It's not until the revisions, and some distance, that I can start piling on the obstacles and hardships.

Katrina L. Lantz said...

LOVED THIS: "But the most important thing I learned from this WiP time-out, is that I'm trying to write this first draft as if it was a final draft, wasting precious time guessing at details I can't possibly know yet."

I do this all the time. It's the internal editor, I guess. I just want it to come out as awesome as the last incredible book read. :) Now that I'm reading about the actual pre-publication editing process in my new job, I'm starting to understand just how unrealistic this goal is.

I also struggle the same way Angelica does, not wanting to make things too hard for my characters. I had an interesting conversation with my co-writer/sister yesterday about this. I suggested we messy up the fun and games section of the plot a bit, throw the characters a curve ball to see how they'd react. Our brainstorm session got a lot more fun after that because we had actual problems to solve outside the outline. I think it makes the scene much better. Conflict usually does. But it's so hard to force something you're not 'feeling.' You know?

Excellent post, Toni! I really enjoyed it and giggled throughout!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post! I really needed to read this because I think I'm overthinking my current WIP right now.

Toni Kerr said...

Good point, Eliza! It's hard to lower the productivity expectations, and be willing to "waste" time writing something you may or may not use in a WiP, but there's certainly more potential in doing that than there is in doing nothing at all. LOL

Toni Kerr said...

It's SO hard not to overthink though, because we remember all the general things our crit partners have told us about our past projects, and what we've told them... But seriously, why can't we remember how many times we have to edit something before we consider it presentable? The first draft does not have to be perfect!

Toni Kerr said...

Making it fun is probably a key ingredient. I LOVE brainstorming with friends to keep the excitement level up.

It must be a major plus to having a co-writer who knows exactly what's going on (for brainstorming sessions).

Katrina L. Lantz said...

It is so fun! This is my first time co-writing a novel, and doing it with my sister makes it even better because we already know how to argue without hating each other. ;)

Toni Kerr said...

I find it fascinating that some of our characters can remain a mystery, even though we created them.

It's probably one of those things that only writers can understand, when others think we're a bit loony.

Toni Kerr said...

LOL I guess that's why they say "Rome wasn't built in a day."

I wonder if my chapter finished percolating, got cold, and started spawning sci-fi mold. :-)

Toni Kerr said...

That's how my two older sisters are-- they can be yelling at each other one minute and laughing the next with no real hard feelings.

How do you decide something if you don't agree? (for example-- a character's personality)

Anonymous said...

Ha. I love this! I had this issue when I was pre-writing my latest WIP. I wanted to give up on my main character so often, but I kept at it (nagging her to death is more like it) and she eventually came around. I wish you the best. Maybe you all need to go out for a drink together. ;)

Toni Kerr said...

Yeah... this WiP definitely has more of a lighthearted style than my previous, but that's what I was going for-- something more family oriented. Maybe "lighthearted" just isn't my thing, as I seem to prefer those impossible obstacles and hardships...

But I do love the basic story idea, and I'll tough it out a bit longer to see if it gets any better.

Toni Kerr said...

This group might prefer Disneyland! Would that be considered a reasonable business expense? I think so!!

Kristal Shaff said...

HAHA! Loved this post. Great way to start off on OA Toni. :o)

Katrina L. Lantz said...

We're doing split POV, so from the beginning she's had jurisdiction over 'her characters' - her protag plus romantic counterpart and group of friends. And I've had jurisdiction over 'my characters' - my protag plus romantic counterpart and friends (or in this case, co-staff, since my MC doesn't really know anybody in this book to start out). The tricky part is when her characters are present in my part and vice versa, which happens more and more as the plot progresses. Those parts we plot together over the phone down to the exact phrasing of dialogue. If we disagree about what somebody would say or do, the jurisdiction thing kicks in. :) It's tricky but awesome.

Katrina L. Lantz said...

LOL! Definitely write that one off!

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this post! I can completely relate to your 'B' team issues.

Stephanie Scott said...

This post is exactly what I needed to see today, Toni. I am struggling with the first draft of my current WIP. I think that I have analyzed this WIP to death, and reading this makes me realize that I need to relax and let the story flow. I need to remember James Thurber's advice, "Don't get it right, just get it written." Great post! :)

Toni Kerr said...

What a great quote! We writers have high expectations of our work, but it's the process of editing that makes a project shine, and it's pretty hard to put polish on something that isn't written. LOL