In the past six months, everything I know about myself as a novelist has changed, except for my dedication to the craft. That’s the one constant. I write every day.
My wake-up-as-someone-else metamorphosis has to do with plot. Now I’m a believer! My characters are no longer given free reign to wander to and fro, discovering conflicts and losses, before I craft them into a narrative. Instead, I’ve been mapping the way through my new novel. I’m controlling each step of my protagonist’s journey ahead of time–a huge shift for a character-driven writer.
Here’s some background about this transformation and my work-in-progress, LOST NOTES. I fell down a rabbit hole last October while working on backstory about a particular music box. The great-great-great grandfather of my intended protagonist captured my imagination. After some coaxing and reassurance from a few writing friends, I dropped my contemporary story, created a new folder and kept writing about the past. Here are some other ways my approach to the craft has changed in the past six months:
1) My first two manuscripts are small-town stories set in Oregon with strong, voicey female protagonists. LOST NOTES is set in France, New York City and other locales–none of which are Oregon.
2) Part of the reason I’ve set novels in familiar places is because research terrifies the heck out of me. Now I’m typing on a desk piled with about 12 nonfiction books about the 19th century, the Civil War, prostitution and even (gasp) a biography. I get ridiculously excited when I discover data from an 1855 census in a pertinent neighborhood of New York City.
3) I used to write first-person. Now I’m working in third. Not limited third, from a particular point of view (the kind that’s closest to first). That would be too much like my old comfortable ways. Instead I’m running wild with omniscient. (It feels really wild. Like I’m tramping alone through wet, dense, waist-high grass.)
4) I’ve traded introspective, reflective coming-of-age type material for a wide-ranging romp of an epic. I have tons of characters swirling through five or six decades.
5) Here’s another shift. My writing has always been contemporary, current day, right now. Instead: Historical, 19th century.
6) And that brings me to my next point. It has only begun to register that people consider historical novels genre fiction. Who knew? I thought I was still writing literary fiction–and perhaps I am, because I certainly still consider myself a literary writer–but this manuscript definitely has a little bit of a (gasp) commercial heft to it.
So yes. I have traded my stripes for spots. Being around other character-driven writers over the past few weeks, and preaching about the joy of plot-first exploration to those who have never tried it, has made me realize exactly how much I’ve changed. I’m a different animal these days. The things I held sacred have been turned upside down, shaken and then dropped on the ground.
I’m absolutely enamored with the results. LOST NOTES is still in first-draft form, and I’m about a third of the way through the story, but I’m thrilled with how much progress I’ve made in six months. I still love my first two literary novels, but this manuscript is bigger, bolder and way scarier. And maybe that’s why I keep writing. To see if I can pull it off.
Anyone else had a similarly dramatic transformation? Or a small one? Where have your writerly shifts led you?