Monday, May 23, 2016

Constructing Your Book

For the past year, we've lived next to a massive construction project. A housing development will arise eventually, but in the meantime it appears to me that several men are having a lot of fun with their grown-up toys moving dirt from here to there, digging gargantuan holes and then hauling in dirt by the hundreds of truckloads to fill them back in again. To my untrained eye, it appears to be nothing but chaos--grown-up chaos, but chaos nonetheless.

This is the world's largest Tonka truck operated
by the  world's biggest (and oldest) boy. He
regularly plays in the yard next to our house and
loves to toss dirt and rocks around with the express
intent of distributing dust evenly throughout
each room and atop every piece of furniture
in our house. (Just kidding. That's not a Tonka;
it's a Komatsu. But the part about the boy is true.

From my bedroom window, I can watch the comings and goings of the daily (and very noisy) activity, but it remains a mystery. Why on earth are they filling that hole when they spent eight hours yesterday digging it? Do they remember hauling those tons of dirt in a few days ago? If so, why are they hauling the same dirt out of the area today? How can what I see before me possibly end up being anything that remotely resembles a community of homes? Without the master plan in front of me, I have no idea what the end result will be.

And so it goes with our books and the process though which we write them. Whether we use a loose outline, a precise synopsis for each scene or chapter or act, or write by the seat of our pants, we must take it one step at a time to get to our eventual end. Our individual master plans may seem confusing to others (or even to us), but taking it to the end eventually clears up any confusion.

I always hesitate to discuss my book with anyone before I've finished a first draft. By then I know what happens to my characters and can discuss it intelligently. Before that, though, my ramblings sound as confusing to my listeners as the digging, hauling, dumping, grading, rock-grinding, and dynamiting in our backyard look to me. I might not have the best master plan (I'm a pantser), but at least I know why I spent eight hours yesterday writing that chapter and conversely, why I spent eight seconds today deleting it. Trying to explain my plot to someone else when I, the author, have no idea what that plot will ultimately be is an exercise in futility. My "grand idea" sounds ridiculous to anyone who doesn't have a clearer idea of how it will all work out.  It doesn't do my credibility as a fairly intelligent writer any favors either. I sound muddled and unsure of myself and my work, and of course, at that point I am. So why let a potential reader in on my confusion? That's why I choose to wait until I can make sense before talking about my work. Just seems prudent.

Just yesterday, though, I noticed a pattern in what the trucks and their drivers have been doing, and it all started to make sense. Yes, it's still in its first draft stage, and I suppose changes will be made here and there before the finished project lies before me. Someone has a master plan. As steps are taken, one by one by one, the grand design emerges.

And so it will be with our books. As we move our characters within their plots and settings, guide them through the stumbling blocks we engineer, dig holes, dump a character or two into them, then haul them back out and fill in those holes to tie up loose ends, our story emerges.

Too bad Tonka (or Komatsu) doesn't make computers. Those men are having way too much fun to be working.

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