Monday, March 29, 2010

Wrestling the Octopus

If you haven't read Blue Hole Back Home by Joy Jordan-Lake, Novel Matters wants to give you that opportunity--free! Comment on today's post to be eligible for the drawing. You will simply fall in love with Joy's beautiful story.

Months and months of showing up at my computer are paying off. The end is in sight! I’ve followed the outline for my WIP—more or less—throughout the first draft. Still, and this happens every single time, getting to the end is like wrestling an octopus into a mayonnaise jar.

I’m so immersed in the story that I’ve lost sight of the big picture. Where is this story headed? There are loose ends whipping around in my head, dropped story-lines littering the plot, and characters who have gone AWOL. Will the story ever end?

It must.

I have a deadline, for goodness' sake.

A FIRM deadline.

No time to panic. Take a step back— think and pray.

To regain my equilibrium with the story, I must remember where I’ve traveled in my story world. I’m
a visual thinker. And so, I need to see the story. To do this, I go back through the manuscript, scene by scene to take notes on what happens. It’s laborious, arguably anal, but I create a new outline with color-coded scenes for the POV character and each character in the scene description is highlighted with their own color. It’s very pretty, very map-like.

Now, to get that octopus into the mayonnaise jar…I print out my colorful chart. I can see where one character is too dominant or where another has been forgotten. I note storylines I’ve left dangling. Weak motivations become obvious. Pretty scenes that don’t move the story along stick
out like, well, a sore tentacle.

It’s tempting to charge ahead, but this is a time of serious prayer for me. Where my characters end up reflects my view of who God is and how he loves and interacts with his creation. I want to get this right. Once I’ve prayed and bounced ideas around with people I trust—poor hubby; he’s so handy—I build a new ending (and shore up mid-story issues), making sure there is resolution and a few questions left for the reader to wrestle. After all, I wouldn’t want to deny them the challenge of swimming with an octopus.

How do you keep track of the big picture of your novel? Do you find resolving all of the plot lines messy? Do you know the ending of your novel before you begin?


Unknown said...

I'm just starting on my first novel, and I'm hoping to avoid or minimize this problem by having a thorough and detailed plot outline in place first. I'm a detailed kind of person, so that works for me. I read a perhaps apocryphal story that SF author Orson Scott Card worked on an outline for his novel "Ender's Game" for two years -- and then wrote it in two weeks.

Linda Hargrove said...

Patti, how timely. I dreamt of octopi last night. There just kept coming out of my books. I'm revising my third novel now. Will this story ever end. It will! It must. Thanks for your post. Just the encouragement I needed. God's grace on your writing.

Ariel Allison Lawhon said...

I have a copy of Blue Hole Back Home (so you don't have to enter me in the drawing) and I LOVED every word. Joy Jordan Lake is such a gifted writer that she makes me want to quit I'll have more time to read.

As far as those slippery octopi are concerned, I do something very similar - only I do it on the front end. I have a detailed chapter by chapter outline, broken down into individual scenes.

I'll be the first to admit that it's going a tad overboard on the planning process, but my writing time is measured in minutes, not hours, most days so it helps to know exactly what I need to write. This time around I used John Truby's book, The Anatomy of Story, to outline my novel and it's given me a deep understanding of my story on the front end.

Linda said...

I'd love the opportunity to win. Sounds like you get into your books when writing. I get into them when I'm reading!!! Please enter me. Thank you.
desertrose5173 at gmail dot com

Patti Hill said...

Bruce: That's just it. I do the detailed, scene by scene outline on the front end, too, all to avoid this. Perhaps if I took 2 years to outline the story. Ender's Game is a masterpiece. I also think I'm still learning how much story I can fit in 100,000 words. I have the same problem with my purse, suitcase, and closet.
Linda: Glad to let you know you're not alone. Now, into the fray!
Ariel: I just ordered Truby's book. I'm on page 3. Must read faster. Thanks for the push.
Linda: You're in the drawing!

Bonnie Grove said...

The file my editor and I sent back and forth to each other through the editing of my next novel was titled TATA (our affectionate name for Time and Time Again) The Story That Never Ends.doc

Yeah - good times.


Bren McClain said...

I love your comment about the importance of how your ending reflects what you believe. I will keep this in mind when I get there. Thanks!

Candee Fick said...

I love the image of wrestling an octopus into a jar with all those loose parts still dangling out there! Who said writing doesn't get messy at times?

I outline with index cards, starting with the key events or turning points in the story and then filling in the gaps. Every thread (internal, external, faith, romance), sub-plot or secondary character also gets their set of cards. I lay the cards out in chronological lines from left to right and make sure each individual arc is complete before I slide them together into a rough timeline (and number them in case I accidentally drop the stack).

Then, when I'm writing the rough draft, I take the top few cards and work them into a scene or two that serves multiple purposes. By the time I reach "The End" all of my various dangling octopus legs should fit neatly.

At least that's the theory. I never fail to get some new great idea that requires adding, deleting, or changing cards along the way.

Latayne C Scott said...

Sheesh. Patti and you others who are so systematic about this make me feel positively scatterbrained. But I am getting some good ideas about gathering up some of those brains to put in the jar with the octopus.

Great post, Patti!

Kathleen Popa said...

Octopus and brains in a mayonnaise jar. We could totally write one of those Gothic/horror/suspense thingies. Or something.

Patti Hill said...

Bonnie: TATA won't end, it will blossom!
Bren: Of course, faith is all through the story, but the resolution should be the ah-ha moment for the reader.
Candee: I like the way your mind works. Index cards answer almost every organizational conundrum. Thanks for the great tips.
Latayne: Wanna trade?
Katy: There's definitely a story idea buried in this.

PatriciaW said...

Patti, it so helps those us struggling to get our wips completed to see that multi-published authors struggle too. So having the outline alone doesn't prevent you from feeling as though your story is wandering in the wilderness, huh? Nice to know.

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

It's different every time for me. I usually have some sense of the ending, but it always changes. I wish I could make charts like that!

Voni Harris said...

I'm going to try something new. (Of course it's new--it's my first novel!). I'm going to create a timeline of the scenes, using a different colored index card for each of my three point-of-view characters. Each point-of-view character will get his own time-line. I can put the three timelines on the floor and compare and locate any holes. My novel involves a disappearance and some flashbacks, so what each character is doing in separate locations is very important.

pat jeanne davis said...

Very timely post for me as I'm doing the third major revision of my WIP. I use an outline, but I've been told that I put too many sub-plots in my stories that don't go anywhere. Some I just have to cut out. Resolving the plot lines is my biggest obstacle in bring the story to a believable and satisfying ending. And the ending changes several times as I make alterations in the story. How difficult it is to provide a eureka moment for the reader. A most encouraging post. Thank you, Patti.

Anonymous said...

hi patti,

i always enjoy visiting 'novel matters.' even though i am not a writer, i learn a lot about your craft from you and your partners.

would love to read 'blue hole back home' thanks for the chance :)

kmkuka at yahoo dot com

Heather Marsten said...

Have not yet written fiction, nonfiction is easier to keep track about, although even with nonfiction you can go off track. I just finished the rough draft of my book, and soon will begin editing.

Kayb said...

this is my first time visiting this site. I would love to read 'blue hole back home.'

Toni Leland said...

Hi! First visit to this site and I'm bookmarking it!

I use a similar visual chart for "seeing" my story faults and foibles. I past it all together and hang it up on the wall where I can see all the over-abundant colors that need refining.

It's a fabulous tool for managing the pacing of a novel--most of mine are thrillers and/or romantic suspense, so the pacing is critical.

Thanks for a great post. Look forward to following all of you.