Thursday, March 6, 2014
The Perils of Pantser Pauline
But first, a censorship update. Since Monday’s bad weather bypassed us, I was able to get to our local Barnes and Noble to see if It, Stephen King’s vintage ‘80s opus, is still politically incorrect. And the answer is … Don’t know yet. With four shelves devoted to Mr. King’s oeuvre, B&N did not have a copy of It. Neither did the used book store down the street. Neither did the three libraries I checked. I’m not saying it was on loan; I’m saying they didn’t have a physical copy at all. One had an audio version, but it was out. The next-nearest B&N is over in Berks County, and there’s another library along the route. I’ll keep you posted.
I had better luck with Huckleberry Finn. That one’s readily available in libraries and bookstores, uncut and in all its offensive glory. That’s the advantage of being a classic. You can’t just sweep it under the rug without protest and a lot of discussion. Discussion is good. Discussion exposes people to new ideas. This is why we write, and why we battle censorship.
I don’t think It has been censored. It could be the publisher hasn’t issued a new edition in a while. For all I know, B&N did have a copy and sold it the day before I got there. I found the word I was checking up on in another Stevie book, which answers my original question. I’ll stay on the lookout for It, though, just to be thorough.
B&N had plenty of copies of 50 Shades of Grey. For some reason, Flowers in the Attic is now shelved in the Young Adult section. Because the protags are kids? I suspect with the rise of the New Adult label, publishers are scouring their backlists for former bestsellers with 20something protags in order to hop on the NA bandwagon and squeeze a few extra bucks out of readers. I never read Flowers—couldn’t get past the first two pages—but I understand it contains child abuse and brother-sister incest. I guess that’s okay everywhere except in self-published romance. Wonder if Amazon’s taken it down yet?
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Here’s a cautionary tale for all you pantsers out there, and for any writer thinking of attempting a serial novel. I hear people are experimenting with those again, now that self-pubbing has made it feasible. That’s where you treat a book like one of those old movie serials—a new chapter every week or month or whatever, preferably ending on a cliffhanger to bring the reader/viewer back next week. Charles Dickens’s work was published this way, in monthly magazine installments. Up until the advent of the Internet, the only modern (1990s) example I can think of is Stephen King’s The Green Mile, which was doled out in print booklets, a chapter a month, as an experiment to see if the reading public would buy a book that way. I guess not, since I’m not aware of any other print serial novels. The Internet’s a different beast. You can post a chapter a day if you want to.
Assuming, of course, you’ve written it.
Over on my other blog, Shapeshifter Seductions, I’ve been posting a story in roughly 1000-word chapters, one every Monday. I’ve put up nine chapters so far. It’s even spilled over into some of my fellow writers’ blogs. I’ve got my characters, action, romance, a threat to everybody’s happiness, and something resembling a plot. What I don’t have is the second half of the book.
I’m a pantser. I don’t plot things out before I start writing. I just plunge right in and see where the story goes. Sometimes I know what happens; a lot of times I only have a vague idea, or no idea at all. That can be good or bad. The good: you don’t know any more than the readers do what’s going to happen next. Surprise is guaranteed. The bad: if you don’t know what happens next, you can’t write it. The story comes to a screeching halt.
The ugly: readers who’ve invested their time in your story are going to be pissed as hell.
If you’re a pantser and you’re considering posting a serial novel, take it from me: WRITE THE ENTIRE BOOK FIRST. Finish it. Polish it. THEN put it up on Amazon in installments, or on your blog or wherever. Plotters can post as they go because they’ve already outlined their book. They know where they’re headed. We don’t. We run the risk of hitting a wall with no immediate way over or around it. Meanwhile, the readers are clamoring for the next chapter. Even worse, they’re liable to walk off in a huff, never to return.
This is where I find myself right now. I’ve got two more chapters in the can and that’s it. Game over. It’s a shame, because I know where I’d like to see the story go. I know what happens to most of my characters, who gets the happy ending and who doesn’t. There’s a big action scene with help from an unexpected source. A gigantic monster gets taken down in an unusual way. Most of the characters get what they want, including one of the bad guys. Two characters who should be mortal enemies bond over their mutual love of grenade launchers. I even have an alternate ending for bad guy Cochrane, which I’m sure Serena would enjoy.
Trouble is, I have no idea how to get from where I am now to where I’d like to be. Until I can figure that out, the whole thing will have to go on hold. I should probably write the ending, even though it may change. How about it, fellow writers? Any suggestions? Encouragement? Advice?
Now I know how J. K. Rowling must have felt. She wrote her final chapter first, then had to write an entire seven-book series to get there. I think she’s a plotter, though, so she had an advantage. And a ton more money than I do. It might be time to brush up on my atrophied outlining skills. Y’think?