Monday, May 12, 2008

Flying through the Fog

I will immediately give credit to the many writers who have come before me and let you know—I did not create that phrase. But I love it.

This past weekend, one of my sisters (the third of us is very pregnant and opted out) and I, our daughters, and our mother traveled to the Biltmore for Mother’s Day weekend. The Biltmore, for those of you who don’t know (forgive the excessive detail, for those of you who do), was built in the late 1890s by George Vanderbilt. George’s grandfather, Cornelius, made all the money and his son, George’s father, doubled the fortune. From what I can tell, George did nothing other than spend.

And he did that very well. He traveled to the Blue Ridge mountains, fell in love with the mountains, and built a 250 room house—99 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, indoor pool, bowling alley, all for a family of 3. He purchased 100,000 surrounding acres and shipped in artisans, housing them in a nearby village—which he also purchased. The house is beautiful, the gardens lovely, but I am still drawn to what drew him—the land.

All of this is an aside to the point I want to make. Driving from one side of South Carolina to the other, and then into North Carolina, took me through the mountains. Going up was breathtaking—the fresh spring green white oaks and poplars blooming. Coming back Sunday, through the morning fog, held mystery, and an illusion—that you could drive right off the side of a mountain and the clouds would hold you up.

I think that’s how I’ve approached writing in the past. I love the thrill of just putting my bottom in a chair and flying. Wherever the stories take me, whatever the characters want to reveal, I’m game.

Flying through the fog works sometimes, particularly if you’re actually in an airplane and have good directional instrumentation.

But, sometimes it doesn’t. I have a manuscript from three years ago,--223 pages into it, I quit. I hate to say I flew over the edge, but I think I did. It’s not too painful, thank goodness, because, unlike in the real world, we have tools to get back on track. I’ve picked up a book by Karen Weisner, First Draft in 30 Days, and am re-plotting to see where I drove off the cliff, if the car is totaled, and so on. I think it’s working.

One final but, however. There’s not the thrill of fog flying here. I have to push myself to go back and edit. I have a million and one things to do around the house—unpacking, for one. So, this fog flier is going to allow myself to work on another manuscript for fun while being a plotter the rest of the day.

So, question—do others find a combination works best—or are there strict plotters and pantsers out there?


Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

Wonderful description, Lex!

I guess I'm mostly a pantser; I have my beginning, my characters, and my end and just let the rest flow. If I get blocked (like you said, it crashes somewhere) at that point I will stop and do some serious plotting (I like index cards and flow charts).

It seems every time I try to seriously plot out a novel it changes as soon as I start writing it. :)

Good luck to you on repairing the crash on your mss. :)

Mel Hiers said...

Great post, Lexie! I'm a plotter and a pantser. I don't do the really detailed 40 page long outlines or anything, but I know how it'll begin and I know the ending. I start by making a bulleted list of scenes. I usually have a 30,000 word crisis, deviate, and pants the rest of it. (Who knew pants could be a verb! :-) But I start with good intentions!

The Blue Ridges are beautiful! We drive through parts of them when we go to Maryland from here, but we've never stopped.

Lexie O'Neill said...

Dear Anitra,
I've never tried either index cards or flow charts--I think you may have a few more manuscripts under your belt than I do!
I think I'll probably try a little of everything over the years...thanks for more ideas!

Savanna Kougar said...

Lexie, so luved your blog. I'm a sucker for flying through fog and over clouds, in my imagination and for real.
I'd have to say I'm a combo of pantser and plotter -- mostly, I just let it fly, except when I get stuck, that's when the plotting takes over, or usually the inspiration. Thanks to my Muse.
Hope you get back on track.

Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

I've tried different things with different novels. I remember thinking that writing would only get easier the longer I did it--ha ha ha! It never gets "easier" but I always learn new things about my own abilities.

Savanna Kougar said...

Anitra, I'm so with you on that! Some aspects do become easier, but then there's the new ones that become more difficult -- at least, my experience, so far.

Evonne Wareham said...

These posts certainly make you think about how you write. As far as I can tell, I do different things for different books, which is not a lot of help!! I do sometimes draw a time line, and then totally ignore it, but I think it does fix events in my head. I've looked at the 30 days book, but never had the stamina to get down and do it. Interesting to know what you make of it.

Terry Odell said...

I keep telling myself I have to start plotting, but so far it hasn't 'taken.' I have to know my characters to some degree when I start, but I find that if I throw them in a room and let them talk, they'll tell me enough to get me going.

Of course, my current WIP characters are not playing by the rules, because they refuse to be in the same place to hook up.

For a novel, I'm usually lucky if I can plot to the next turning point -- heck, until I get close, I don't usually know what the turning point will be. It's enough for me to look at what I'm writing and see if I've got tension there.

When the fog turns to pea soup, I tend to start asking those "why" and "what if" questions. If it means ripping out stuff--well, I have a folder called "cuts" for each book.

I brainstormed a plot for one of my Wild Rose Press short stories with my crit partners. That story was the least 'fun' to write, since I knew exactly what was going to happen, so it boiled down to picking the right words.

Helen Scott Taylor said...

What a fabulous place. Must have been a great trip.

On plotting or not, I tend to work on my characters then let the plot develop as I write. I usually know the first part of the story before I start writing, then it takes on a life of it's own.

Savanna Kougar said...

Terry, I know what you mean about letting the characters take the story. Some of my turning points just come about, surprise! surprise! as Gomer Pyle would say, and aren't what I would expect at all.
Thanks for defining your writing process so well.
That's almost a blog unto itself!

Hi Helen, on some of my stories that's how it works for me too.

Lexie O'Neill said...

Such a shame I didn't get back to the blog after your comment (the rest of us are IVers and hopefully forgive me)! I'm off for the summer and just as busy as ever--maybe because I'm try to spend time with my kids now.
I understand what you mean about it not being as much fun when you know what's going to happen. But
maybe for some manuscripts, it's needed? I don't know, this one is giving me fits!

Lexie O'Neill said...

I do usually know what's going to happen in the beginning, and the end, and that's it. So, sagging middles are a big threat.
Yes, the trip was beautiful--only we've been playing catchup with my daughter and schoolwork!

Lexie O'Neill said...

I like the bulleted list idea--this longer outline makes me impatient, but I still haven't made the heroine's motivation strong enough, so plot I shall.
Thanks for reading and responding,

Lexie O'Neill said...

I'm scheduling myself to post every other Monday (decided I needed more structure), so I'm going to post the next time on how the system is working--great idea!

Terry Odell said...

Lexie, I think that in a novel, there's plenty of time for 'surprises' but in the short story format, it's so compact that it's "easy" (?) to plot the whole thing out.

I know in Finding Sarah, I was totally surprised when 2/3 through the book, Randy told me he played the piano very well. But looking back, everything fit. I had to modify ONE line.

Those are the cool things for me--because they'll open new doors and things start rolling along.

Lexie O'Neill said...

You're so great about blogging!

Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

One last comment about the surprises that characters throw in our laps. I can't tell you how many times a character "told" me to include something (a nickname, a birthmark, a twitch) that I had no idea about WHY they wanted it included but somewhere along the novel it developed great meaning. I have learned one thing that makes writing easier and that's listening to the voice of my characters.

Savanna Kougar said...

I know what you mean, Anitra, my hero in Tangerine Carnal Dreams revealed his royal lineage when he told his sire's Watcher not to say it out loud. Up until then I had no idea that was his heritage. I hadn't planned it at all! Yet, it becames absolutely key to the entire story.