Monday, December 27, 2010

Space Available: My Expectations.

So, now that I've announced my upcoming Twitter novel, Space Available, I thought it'd be a good idea to lay down some expectations both for myself and for whomever winds up reading the thing. Just some thoughts and ideas, some of the ways I see it going and some of the ways I can foresee it changing. That sort of thing. Oh, and maybe some preemptive answers to possible questions about the writing process in general. So. Here goes.

Plot. I've written two other novels, and with both of those, I had a plot in mind before I began, but nothing really set in stone. With Mooch, I knew I wanted to write a heist caper, and I had the setup pretty firmly established (rich guy dies/ buried with fortune/ our heroes want to steal it), but I didn't really know how deviously mooch-y Jake would wind up being. And I had absolutely no intention of making it as much of a love story as it became--that just happened as I was writing it. I guess I'm just a hopeless romantic and couldn't help putting that stuff into it.

Knuckle Sandwich was a different bird altogether. Here's how I originally pitched it to NavPress:

A local Christian rock band known as Knuckle Sandwich is doing their best to make it to the big time. They work hard, rehearse three times a week, play any and every show they can, and save up their money to record a demo. Then they finally get a gig opening for a major Christian act, and everything changes.

This one’s been percolating for some time, and it would ideally be a blistering (but loving) satire of the entire Christian subculture. Topics examined/lampooned: Christian music vs. secular music, bumper-sticker-deep faith, the recent explosion of selfish and self-centered Christianity, and the galling idea of the Christian celebrity.

What the book actually became was a coming-of-age/faith story about a college kid who realized that his idea of Jesus had been too small all along. Yes, some of the Christian subculture satire is in there, but the book became much less about that and much more of an examination of a kid who'd grown up in that subculture and who therefore had only an intellectual relationship with God.

Looking back at my original pitch, I can see that there wasn't a lot of plot to begin with--it was really just a kernel of an idea that lent itself well to becoming a character study, which it did. As I got deeper into the writing, I began to realize more and more the trajectory my characters were headed on, and I started to see some plot machinations I wanted to throw at them to see how they'd handle it. I didn't have a plot outline, but I did create a sort of timeline to keep track of the two years or so that the novel encompasses.

As far as this pertains to Space Available, I've decided it would be a good idea to outline as much of a plot as I can, while still allowing breathing room. My other novels I wrote in a month--they consumed all my time for thirty straight days. This time around, I'm writing it in small bursts over the course of an entire year, and that's a recipe for an extremely wandering and unfocused plot. So I'm mitigating that as much as possible by creating an overarching outline.

I've actually started to think of this almost episodically, not unlike my favorite television show of the past few years, "LOST." Once they got to season three and negotiated an end date with ABC, the creators outlined the entire arc of the rest of the series, episode by episode, to make sure they doled out the necessary information in a smart and satisfying way, and to make sure they treated all their characters fairly. I'm thinking along those same lines.

Characters. In both my previous novels, the characters sprang into my mind almost as I started writing. For example, with Mooch, I based Jake (loosely) on myself and Louisa (not-so-loosely) on my wife, and then added the other characters as I needed them. Jake needed a boss, so here comes Del. All good heist capers need a team of crack experts that each bring their own special skill, so here come Jeremy and Chiffon. In fact, I based Chiffon on a reality show personality who just happened to be on the television as I wrote her first scene.

Sometimes characters change the entire course of a book. The first time I thought through Knuckle Sandwich, I thought it'd be an interesting dynamic to have Matt and Jeremiah both be vying for Liz's affections. But when it came time to introduce Liz, I decided to do it at Club David, the Christian dance club they happened to be visiting, and I realized that this cool girl Liz would not be there by herself. That would be out of character for her. So I invented her friend Amanda, and adding just that one character changed not just that situation but the story itself. (And changed it for the better, I might add.)

The problem with Space Available is that I've locked myself into a certain plot structure, so what happens if I introduce a character who can make the story better in a direction I didn't foresee? I'm sure I'll have to balance out sticking to my outline and exploring more interesting avenues that crop up as I write. I anticipate this will be my most difficult challenge.

Plus, I abhor having the plot dictate the characters. That's really a backward way of writing, and a great way to write something completely boring. It's really fascinating to get to know your characters and let them take over your story. Fascinating both to you as the writer and to your eventual readers. I really hope to be able to let this happen as I create Space Available.

Again, I think of "LOST." While they had their overall plot planned out years in advance, they also built in room to adjust (or perhaps they'd say "course-correct") to the many, many different trials and challenges of producing a network television show. For example, they'd written a multi-season arc for one character, but the actor who played that character hated being in Hawaii away from his friends and family and wanted off the show. His arc was important to the mythology of the show, though, so they had to give his entire arc to a different character and find a way to make it work. That's sort of thing I'm anticipating needing to do, and I'm trying not to soil myself with anxiety thinking about it.

Medium. My previous two novels were written with the vomit-it-into-your-computer-and-clean-it-up-later method endorsed by the folks at National Novel Writing Month. I've had a blast writing like that, just pounding the coffee and then pounding the keys, letting whatever hops into my brain leak out onto the page, knowing that I'll go through with a big, fat, red pen and fix it all later on. It's freeing.

That obviously isn't going to work here. For starters, this is for keeps. Everyone is reading along, as I write it. I can't go back. There are no do-overs. Every tweet is final.

So how can I write with abandon while knowing that I can't go back and edit? I'll let you know once I do it. If I do it.

Next post: The rules of the game. What impositions and boundaries I'm setting up for myself as I write Space Available. Should be fun.

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