Summer, where did you go? We had a good time, didn’t we? Spontaneity, lake trips, quick weekend getaways, a book release, sleeping in, eating whatever and whenever we wanted. In short, this summer will go down in the books as one of the best the Leavitt family has seen perhaps since Mr. Leavitt and I fell in love in the glory days of ’97.
But this summer was also interesting for me as it was the first summer in quite a few years that I didn’t have an intense, end-of-summer deadline. I have a contemporary book due this fall, hopefully to be released in 2014. I have a mid-grade book I’ve been fiddling with that isn’t contracted. So I thought, writing-wise, this summer would be a breeze. In some ways, it was. I had a sitter for just a couple hours a week, a day or two to daydream, outline, get a couple of chapters in when I felt inspired. But the problem was, I didn’t feel very inspired, especially on this contemporary I was working on.
Oh, I certainly liked the story. There were some characters and dynamics that I could discuss for hours (and did with some poor, unfortunate writing friend). There were characters I wanted to meet, themes I wanted to explore, and a romantic dynamic that I’d been thinking about for years. Notice there is no mention of a plot. A hook. A POINT. And because of this, because there were no high stakes or drive in the story, I would often sit down and write these fun descriptions and back story without any idea why the scene mattered or where I was going next.
This isn’t my first rodeo. I knew I was doing something wrong. But I didn’t know how to fix it, how to suddenly infuse conflict into all these other elements. This was something that had never happened to me before, something I hope doesn’t happen again. Finally, I finished the first couple of chapters and sent it to my editor. We scheduled a phone call and she very nicely pointed out THERE WAS NO PLOT.
Sometimes you don’t know the plot when you start a story. Sometimes you follow a character along until you realize the rest. Plot is even a dirty word in some literary circles. But you still need conflict, an inciting incident. There has to be a reason to root for that character. At this point, this story was lacking in all those areas.
During this phone call, my editor made a comment about another story I’d sent her years ago set in Las Vegas with a paranormal twist. She mentioned how much she liked the Vegas setting in that story and I said, yeah, yeah, maybe I’ll dig that up after I finish this book I’ve been working on for three months. But once I got over those three months–three months paying a sitter, three months away from my kids–I realized the Las Vegas story I should have been working on all along. I went to LA for SCBWI conference and to sign with Lisa Schroeder, and Lisa said exactly what I’d been feeling, “Maybe you should shelf that hard novel and work on the one your editor mentioned.” Boom. I told her about the idea. She asked some questions, I got going, and within thirty minutes I’d ditched the paranormal element, made the story a straight contemporary, found my conflict, my character, my love interest, my story timeline.
Sometimes you have to flounder through the wrong book before you find the right one.
I’m not giving up on the first story, but that one still needs to marinate for awhile. Sometimes you can’t force it, deadline or not. A story doesn’t need to come fast for it to work, but I have found that once I get that A-HA moment where that one line hook happens, then I can move on with a story at a solid pace. So now, end of summer*, I start again, with a nice tan and fresh story idea. Bring it on, fall.
*Meanwhile, to celebrate the end of this crazy summer, I’m giving away a copy of GOING VINTAGE on goodreads. You can enter here!