Monday, April 28, 2008

Some Books Just Happen....

I've been really lucky. I've had three books in my career that just happened. They poured out of me and needed very little blood, sweat and tears to edit or polish. Baby Makes Three was one and the last of the Mitchell books, Worth Fighting For and then the book after that, out in December called The Son Between Them. The characters arrived pretty fully-formed. I had a pretty sound idea of all the stuff that needed to happen in the book and the stakes tied to it so my plot mattered to my characters. A couple of nudges in the right direction from my critique group and that was it.

I am realizing those books do not come free. They are not a gift from my cruel and unusual muse. I am paying for them right now.

This book - tentatively titled THIS F*&$)@^ BOOK - started with a roar and died. Died a terrible death at page 200. It's just lying there, barely breathing, not even trying to help.
But, I've had two interesting conversations with Dr. Sinead and I think (probably unbeknownst to her) we've got a diagnosis. We, at DWT, have spent a lot of time trying to figure out what we do well. What we get, inherently. And what just comes part and parcel with our process. It's a very very good thing to know - if you haven't figured out, you should. Because you can capitalize on it, shine that function up so that it really works for you. And I've been doing that. I have lots and lots of emotional, character driven conflict in my books. Oh! The conflict!

However, in polishing up that, I've neglected what I don't do well. And, of course, been delighted to do so. But we were talking about Sinead's current WIP and a certain dilemma she had about motivation. I kept telling her to write in the scenes that show us the character creating the motivation. And she kept saying "I think I need a plot point to create the motivation. Attempted murder, or something."

And I realized that why my book is stalling is that there are just too many character scenes that further the plot so minutely that the book isn't dying - it's sound asleep from boredom. Stuff needs to happen.

We watched the very brilliant movie The Savages the other day. (Not funny, that movie. Not funny at all.) But everything that happened was so small, yet so huge. I don't need attempted murders - luckily. But I have to keep things rolling along with the right kind of plot for the book and characters. People standing around talking works to some extent, but every once in a while, you need whatever the equivalent of a car bomb is for your book.

So, this f*#%(&^ book is reminding me to work on what I'm bad at - plot and stakes. Have you figured out what you're bad at? Are you working on it?


Kimber Chin said...


One of my sci fi writing buddies says "When all else fails, blow something up."

Heidi the Hick said...

I'm bad at doing That One Big Conflict. I tend to write all those little things that cause problems, and let it build. I don't think that's bad, but apparently I've been told that there needs to be That One Big Conflict to make it happen. And TOBC needs to happen sooner.

But sometimes I don't care what I'm bad at. I don't know if that's good or bad.

Anonymous said...

funny enough, the stuff I'm bad at, emotionally driven conflict and character driven conflict, is what you're good at.

It was good advice you gave me. Because character driven is the last place I look when trying to find a fix...
Luckily I have my critique group to remind me:)

Great post, Molly.

Maureen McGowan said...

"tentatively titled THIS F*&$)@^ BOOK"

Everyone at Starbucks just stared at me when I started laughing out loud at that... I'll bet your publisher will LOVE that title and stick with it.

I'm starting to think I suck at the character stuff, too. Which is kind of ironic since I spent the last 3-4 years thinking I could do that stuff and writing women's fiction which should be character driven... But with hindsight, mine were more plot driven, I think.

Hoping I've finally found a genre that works for me now. And I love that we have different strengths and weaknesses. No one else will understand this... But that flask was *so* a plot device for me. An easy way to solve a problem. And you saw the character side of it. Love that.

And you'll get through this F*&$)@^ book. Hang in there.

Molly O'Keefe said...

I think anytime you are able to get what you're good at combined with what your bad at to work - you've got a winner. In my case it's getting character and plot to work together. I used to have this theory that for my scenes to work I had to figure out what was revealed. What character detail, backstory detail, came to light. And that's fine -- That's actually Family At Stake. But if I could combine that with some plot - well, who knows what that book could have been.

And I think right now, more than ever, I am so grateful for critique partners because I don't want to work on what I'm bad at. I don't want to have to think anymore than I already am - it hurts. It sucks, actually. But the critique group, whether we're talking about my work or someone elses, makes me confront what I'm failing at. ANd if my editor can make the book I turn in better -- shouldn't I send her the best possible book I can?

Anonymous said...


Had to chime in and say since you sent me this link I've spent an unforgiveable amount of time at my day job reading back posts.

Awesome stuff. I'm a convert of the s**t needs to happen theory.

I'm all plot and no character. I get to the end of a book and think wow that was really smart how everything unfolded. I rock!

Then I realize I don't have any idea who these two characters are. In my head sure - on paper not so much.

Back to work.


Maureen McGowan said...

Stephanie!!! So glad you stopped by. You are definitely a kindred spirit to the DWT bloggers. Come back to Toronto, soon, so we can drink--I mean talk writing--again. :-)

I think my process is much like yours. I usually know the characters in my head while I'm writing and am sometimes shocked when my CP's aren't getting them... Then I start my revisions and see what they mean. :-)

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