Saturday, February 15, 2014

My Writing Process: Is My Story Arc on the Right Trajectory?

I recently crossed the 50,000-word threshold of my newest manuscript, and I'm pretty excited. I think it has potential to be a good book--maybe even better than my first. I have no way of gauging that objectively, I know, but I just like how the story is playing out. I hope the public will tell me which they like better when I someday get them both published. 

As I worked over the last week, though, I ran into yet another new challenge. I got to a crisis point in the story. I don't mean a crisis in the story itself, although that was going on too. I mean that I was at a turning point, at which I had to decide whether I was going to simply play out the plot to resolution or add some other twist or plotline. At some point, you have to decide that it's time to finish the story; otherwise, it just keeps rambling on with no end in sight. So last week, I decided I was going to push on to the end and have the big showdown where Harry and Dee save the day. So that's what I started to do and it was going fine.

But then I got to making some calculations. I talk to my students about finding the Goldilocks zone as they are making up their own practice Advanced Placement multiple choice questions. They can't be so easy that they aren't worthy of discussion and they can't be too hard or ask questions that a reader can't even infer from the text without reading something into the piece that isn't there. They have to be just right--requiring close reading and careful analysis, but achievable. In a similar vein, the kind of books I write need to fall into a Goldilocks zone in order to be saleable. They can't be so short as to fall into the novella zone. I don't even know if that zone exists, but if it does, I don't want to be in it. But they can't be so long, especially as I try to build a following, that people grow impatient. They want a story with enough substance to be worth their time, but not one that forces them to invest days or weeks of reading, something most don't feel is owed to a book of my genre. The reality is that I'm not, for the moment, writing literature. It's supposed to be a ripping yarn, not a ponderous tome.

So I realized I made a mistake. I was creating too low a trajectory. If I played the tale out from where it stood, the story would be too simple, too short. So I did something that I hate to do--I deleted one and a half chapters and rewrote them completely, going in another direction altogether. Whereas in my previous entry I talked about killing off a character, I decided to bring a dead character back to life (in the literary sense, not the zombie sense--that's not my bag), change a character from found to still whereabouts unknown, and add a major plotline. It wasn't a line I just picked out of the air. I was planning to have this happen to Harry and Dee all along. I just thought it would be in the next book. And it partly will be. But I'll start the thread now and play it out part way, so everyone will want to buy the next one to find out how it turns out. 

Sometimes I feel like a mouse in a maze. I know I'll eventually find the cheese, but from time to time I hit a dead end, make a wrong turn. When that happens, I can sit down and squeak about it or I can backtrack and try another route. Maybe a longer route, but one that leads to the payoff I want. 


  1. It often takes getting to the end to really see what your story is about. Sounds like you're doing great work!

  2. Thanks! I don't know if it's great, but if it isn't, it's not for lack of effort.