Monday, February 24, 2014

One of those (good) days...

Writers always have good days and bad. Today, I haven't written much yet on my current Work In Progress (WIP). We had dental appointments mid-morning, and so instead of writing, I finished reading Jill Shalvis' latest book, Once in a Lifetime. Then, I got involved with responding to an email from my critique partner/mentor/editor, Laurie. The thing is, when I'm involved in these activities, they seem completely irrelevant to the process, and yet, today, they were anything but.

On route to the dentist, I was thinking about another of the stories in the Ward Sisters Series and had an epiphany. Not just about my current WIP, This Year's Love, but about my writing in general. Over the course of the past year, I've grown and changed, improved my skills, yes, but also found my voice strengthening. Last month, while completing Right Here Waiting, I had a breakthrough in my editing/storytelling when I realized the 10k I'd recently written wasn't going to make it to the final manuscript. Instead of feeling frustrated, I was elated! I'd come to the same conclusion I would have after Laurie read the manuscript, but I did it on my own, before she'd ever seen the material. It was emotionally akin to my son reading his little numbers book to me earlier and saying, "I'm learning!"

The process taught me to see that not everything I write has to make it into the final manuscript, but that doesn't mean some of those details aren't important. Like I just said to Laurie, if I don't write it, I can't decide which bits make it in, which bits will be glossed over and which bits will be ignored. I'd decided I didn't think I needed to write the history of the main characters into This Year's Love the way I have in the past. But for one, that might not be the best way to approach the story. And for another, even if the reader doesn't need to know the details, I do.

When I meet a character for the first time or as a secondary character in another story, I don't know everything about them. It's no different for me than it is when I meet new friends or acquaintances. The longer I know someone, the more I learn about them, the clearer the picture in my head. My characters are no different. So, whether or not I structure This Year's Love in any way similar to the last two stories I wrote or I take a completely different approach, I still need to write their histories, separately and together. Then, when I edit, I can decide if things are necessary for the reader to know and in how much detail. Why is this so exciting to me? Because now, when I write a story, any story, I'll automatically want to learn the history of a character, even if it's only for my information, and for someone like me, that means I've streamlined my process.

It's so funny that I've come to this conclusion, because I wrote a post early in my blogging about my sophomore year English teacher, who I resented at the time, but whose assignment to do a dossier on the characters of Oliver Twist informed my writing. Now, I'm realizing that process of putting together a 'file' - in my head and, more importantly, in writing - about a character is what helps me shape the story I'm telling. And none of it is pointless, even if I don't use it. The exercise serves many purposes, some of which help me be a better writer/editor, and some of which help create the story.

So, trip to the dentist, helpful and made my teeth sparkle. Reading another author's work? Seems completely relevant, right? Well, sure. Every writer is a reader. And in this case, I love Jill Shalvis' work. But more importantly, the last book in the Lucky Harbor series, Always On My Mind, was a friends-to-lovers story. This Year's Love is also one of those stories. And in Once in a Lifetime, we catch up a little with the previous characters, post HEA (Happily Ever After). They're doing great, but it cemented my conviction that I wanted This Year's Love to be different from your typical friends-to-lovers with a HEA ending. What happens after the HEA? What if the road to becoming more than friends was easy, but the 'after' was the hard part? That's what this story will be, and I'm very glad that I took this route. I'm really excited to get back to it with a new perspective in my head. As a writer, I enjoy generating ideas. But as a reader, I want those ideas to be interesting to other readers. That's the only reason to pick up a book, right? If it will engage you in some way? And what better way to engage the readers than to tell a story that's been told, but in a new way?

Which leads me to the third activity of the day, emailing my writing guru. We talk, back and forth, about our work, writing in general, life, how our stories are progressing, how sales are going, you name it. Any one of our emails could run the gamut. And sometimes, while I'm writing to her, I end up actually writing what is a plot/character development email to myself. I did that today on This Year's Love. Score one for character development! Other times, I'm writing to her and, though I do want to share what I'm typing with her, I'm also talking to myself. I had another one of those moments today. While sharing my excitement about the epiphany I detailed above, I came to the conclusion that my 4-month window between books in the series might be more than I need, now that my writing has evolved. And that sparked an exciting idea in my head.

So, I don't want to get too excited about this prospect, because I have a long way to go to finish This Year's Love for its late-June publication, and I have no idea what might happen with that. But, as of now, I'm thrilled to reveal that I'm planning a pre-quel story for my second series, Warwick, Maine. It'll be set in my college years of the 90's. The story will be a New Adult-genre narrative and will tie into the Warwick series by introducing some of the characters who'll appear later, in their older versions. The manuscript first draft is complete - it's a story I wrote previously that will be worked into the Warwick series - so provided I don't have a hard time with This Year's Love, it's reasonable to anticipate finishing this story for publication long before the November launch of Warwick. Current plans have me hoping for a mid-May release (between books 3 and 4 of Ward Sisters), but I might push it out to July (between 4 and 4.5 of Ward Sisters) if that seems more reasonable. Stay tuned. The current story title is Closer to Fine. Unlike most of my work, it's written in first-person, so it'll be an interesting adventure to bring it to life for my readers!

Back to work! Thanks for listening to me ramble today, and I can't wait to share more stories with all of you!

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