Monday, July 30, 2012

Lessons and stone walls

As my ideas for another book start to gel, I'm applying the lessons I learned from writing my first book. These lessons were learned the hard way - the best way for me - through mistakes that cost time and effort.

1. First and foremost, I need to spend more time fleshing out my characters before I start writing. Most of the rewriting and editing I've done is because my incomplete character profiles led to confusing character actions or dialogue.

2. I need a more thorough outline, one that integrates the plot and the characters more fully. I developed what I thought was an outline but in actuality, it consisted only of plot points. Once I put characters into those situations, they didn't act as I planned and I had to tear up the whole outline (or in my case, tear down, since I had the outline taped to the wall) and start over. And again. And again.

3. I need to discipline the temptation to get side-tracked from the main point of the story. I now keep the Story Question and the Story Pitch taped over my desk as reminders of 'what my story is about.'

4. I need to do lots of research before I start. This is something I actually did right (!) with Risking Exposure. I read, watched documentaries, traveled to Munich to walk where Sophie would have walked and to study 1930's maps in the city archives, all before I started the real work of writing the story. My research has continued of course, as I needed details to be added to my ever-changing story.

In that vein, I've started some basic research for the story percolating in my head (see my post about Pinterest.) It involves stone walls and the bad news is my knowledge about them could fill a thimble. The good news is the Brooklyn PA Historical Society hosted a lecture on this region's stone walls by Ken Ely, a local enthusiast who teaches about and restores old walls as an avocation. He used dozens of slides to share his passion for these beautiful structures, describing their original purpose (to define property boundaries and keep livestock in), their construction and common features, as well as their restoration and preservation as part of our local heritage.

I learned that beneath the simple beauty of the stone wall that separates our property from the mountain behind lies a complex balance achieved through someone's investment of time, effort, and a vision of the completed task.

Which is also what I need to invest in my stories.

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