Monday, December 10, 2012

Don't Follow Me, I'm Lost Too!

by Sue Ann Jaffarian

  Two roads diverged in a murky book
And sorry I could not take both,
long I sat, scratching my head, looking for a hook.
With apologies to Robert Frost

Since I don’t outline before I start a book, this happens quite often. Not with every book, not even with half of them, but frequently enough for me to be prepared.
The problem is, manuscripts do not come with a GPS. You just have to trust your gut and if your gut is confused, have a plan.

When it’s decision time and one path doesn’t present  itself as the best, I simply resort to drawing a simple flow chart on the huge white board fastened to the wall next to my desk. I draw a path of “what ifs” following it until it meets up with the resolution I’ve already decided upon.  Next, I draw the other path, complete with new scenarios, character behavior, and outcomes until it meets up with the other at the resolution.
Next I examine both paths for plausibility and story complication. If it shows too much of the resolution too early – buzz – not good. I want readers to be able to follow the story and work it in their own minds, but not too early or make it too simple.  Same goes with plausibility. If one path seems too unlikely and might cause too much suspension of belief and eye-rolling among readers – buzz – not good.
If after careful scrutiny, both roads are still in the  running, I view each for entertainment value.  After all, I (supposedly) write humorous mystery novels.

But no process is fail proof. I remember one book where I choose what I thought was the best story path, only to dump five chapters and go back and take the road I'd discarded.  It put me way behind schedule but in the end it was the best pathway.  I just didn't see it until I'd fought my way down the other road for several miles.

Lesson to be learned: logic isn't always the best. Sometimes you gotta trust your gut ... and take a machete.


Catriona McPherson said...

Wow. I'm impressed. Are you a chess player, by any chance? Cx

VikkiJeanne said...

Thanks, Sue Ann! Great advice for me to remember as I begin my *Mother Road Mysteries* series. I'm leaving mainstream to try my hand at mysteries now ~ and *you* were one of my inspirations. My mama was the other, so you are in good company. :) ♥

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

No, Catriona, but I play a mean backgammon and am a cutthroat dominoes player.

Vikki, good luck with the mysteries. Writing them is a lot of fun ... and frustration ... but mostly fun.

Reece said...

That is impressively organized and logical, Sue Ann. Especially for someone who claims to be a "seat of the pantser"! I wish I could be that systematic about my plotting problems.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Reece, I only employ this method when soundly stuck and sinking in quicksand. Too much work otherwise. I swear, most of my writing is by the seat of my pants.