By J. F. Lewis
Last week, we took a giant step forward in time when discussing THE TIME TRAVELING VAMPIRE and approached the idea of handling revision letters. Now let’s skip back a bit. The idea is simple: Mr. Garrett is a Victorian era vampire possessed of a time machine. He’s married to a lovely wife (who is not a vampire) and he travels forward in time to feed on those he finds to be more deserving victims. But that’s just the concept. Where do we go from there?
Some authors would start an outline at this point. But that’s not how I work.
For me, it would be straight to the first scene. Of course, just because it’s the first scene written doesn’t mean it will wind up as the actual first chapter. As a discovery writer, the first scene is the acid test, almost a pre-write to work out the voice both of the character and the narrative. It’s also a test to help answer the questions:
Can I really write this?
Does this really work?
Is this worth my time?
There are two “Can I write this” barriers. The easiest one crops up very early. In my case, I find a scene that I feel most captures the central character and start writing. It may not be more than five or six pages (generally not more than two thousand words). If I’m not enjoying the process at that point, if it feels stale to me or more like a passing interest than something long term… I drop it and see how I feel about it later. Is it something worth spending a hundred thousand words on? If I’m not burning to continue after a few thousand words, the answer is a pretty clear: No.
The second barrier pops up around ten thousand to thirteen thousand words. Right there is a point for me where, if it’s not a novel, I’ll start to feel it. Other ideas pop up during any project, but usually, I only write enough of them down to remember them and come back to later. If I catch myself spending too much time brainstorming other ideas, that’s another bad sign.
By the thirteen thousand word mark, I’ll pretty much have the answer to the other questions, too. If I need to learn more or do intense research, I’ll know by then. If the plot isn’t going to work, I’ll have a fix in mind or start thinking about how to change it. By that point, I can generally give an idea of what the overarching plot is and where I’m going. I should even have a rough idea of how it’s all going to end.
Time is a harder question to address. Before I was published, I didn’t give it much thought at all. I wrote what ever I wanted and assumed it would find a market. But for THE TIME TRAVELING VAMPIRE, I would likely have a market in mind, know what genre it is, and may already have run the idea by my agent or even let her see a writing sample. If she hates the very idea of it, thinks it unsalable, then I might abandon the project completely.
If it sounds like discovery writing can involve a fair amount of wasted word count, you’d be correct. But with practice even a writer as seat of his pants as me, starts to get a feel for things earlier and earlier in the process.