I seemed destined to write nonfiction. The article fascinated me—how could so many different writers treat the same topic in so many different ways? My desire—my dream—was to write articles for magazines. And I did for many years. That’s how I made my living.
Over the years, I continued writing nonfiction books and articles on subjects I knew and those I wanted to research. Until one day, the fiction bug niggled at me. Many of you know I’ve been writing and publishing light mysteries (revved up cozy mysteries) now for two years. The sixth in the Klepto Cat Mystery series will debut soon. The seventh is completed and will go to the proofreader Monday. And yesterday I plotted out number eight.
I did the plotting a little differently this time. Usually I just start writing and watch the story unfold and the characters develop. This time, the complete story seemed to be whirling around in my head wanting to come out all at once. My writing was a bit stilted because the story was racing to be told and I couldn’t organize it in my mind fast enough to adequately tell it. What to do?
Yesterday, I sat down and outlined the plot in 45 segments—organizing my thoughts representing the progressive storyline. This exercise used up four and a half typewritten pages. Now I will refer to each section of the plot outline to guide me in writing the book. Now I can see what happens and what should happen next, and on and on. I can write in the details and nuances as I go—or later, if I decide to create the shell of the story first. Knowing my style, I will probably do a lot of fleshing out as I go along during the creation of the first draft. I generally wind up with 50,000 to 60,000 words after my first go-through.
How many times do I ultimately “go through” one of my fiction books? I should keep count because this is one of many questions I’m frequently asked. But I’d say no fewer than a dozen.
As a professional writer of nonfiction, I taught myself a process where I will self-edit numerous times for different purposes—focusing on different aspects each time. Once I feel the story is set, I’ll go over the manuscript again focusing mainly on punctuation—did I close all of the quotes and appropriately use commas, for example. I’ll go through checking for overuse of certain words and repeated words, as well as making sure certain slang and habitual words are attributed to certain characters. (You can’t have everyone using the same pet slang.) I might use one go-through concentrating mainly on character credibility. Is this the way that character would act/speak? Then I reread the story through a reader’s eyes—does it make sense, does it flow, can the reader visualize what I had in mind when I wrote it, is there just enough description/explanation, is the story told through action and dialog or am I putting too much of me in there?
I can write a novel in two months. My flow seems to be three and a half months per book and that’s with life’s flow and obligations—those things that interrupt your writing.
One thing I notice I don’t do is plan for future plots. I didn’t start thinking about the plot for the current book I’m working on—book eight—until I was halfway through with the editing for book seven. And I think that was because it was so hot. That’s when I decided that my little fictional family and their pet menagerie should spend some time on the coast. Then I had the task of trying to make this transition realistic.
I have to tell you, there’s power in storytelling—story-creation… I used to exert that power as a nonfiction writer. I could make readers think. I could change minds, even cause conflict and tension. As a writer of fiction, I can change a character’s mind, develop a new character, kill off a character, etc. at the strike of a key. And I can arouse a chuckle, a tear, even anger in my readers. That’s the power of the written word.