Blogger: Michelle Ule
Location: In Santa Rosa packing for Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference
What excitement! A contract! I can write “novelist,” on my IRS 1040 for 2010! A dream has come true.
Or has it?
Don’t I have to actually write the story? Isn’t it due February 1?
I mentally calculated my schedule for fall 2010, when I’d need to write the novella: My daughter was leaving for college; I had planned several trips; the Books & Such retreat would require lots of work in October; Thanksgiving was scheduled in LA; and then there was Christmas. So, I started to work on my draft early– as in the day after we left our daughter at college while I flew to Washington, D.C. with my husband.
Thinking I had 20,000 words and a story that took place over six months, I plotted carefully. I divided 20,000 by 12 (hero and heroine each get a chapter per month) and calculated that each chapter needed to be about 1,666 words long. At approximately 250 words per page, that was about six pages each chapter.
I had significant events that needed to happen during each month, and I wrote them in, figured out whom I wanted to say what and what the weather was like at the time. I started chapter three as we took off from our layover in Chicago en route to D.C.
I felt pretty good about my plans until I happened to ask Janet to confirm the number of words. The answer came back 15,000-17,000. Oh, my! I’d just lost 3,000 words, or 1/6 of the manuscript. I was going to have to write tighter!
By late October, my critique group had read my first draft, and I felt confident enough to read it aloud to my colleague Rachel Kent, as we drove to the Books & Such retreat in Monterey.I was nearly done reading, and we were nearly to Monterey, when the traffic slowed to a stop. A man ran down the middle of the freeway toward us, with three burly characters chasing him.
When he reached our car, we heard the chasers shout, “Stop, police!” They drew guns.
Rachel and I ducked as they zoomed past. Traffic picked up, and we continued on our way.
That’s all Rachel thinks of when I mention The Dogtrot Christmas . . .
My critique group had good ideas of how to improve the story. My husband–who always recognizes himself as the hero–had insight as well. I didn’t like the ending, but I finished it up in mid-November and left it alone.
I glanced at it in December, but didn’t change much–I was onto other novella proposals and couldn’t worry about The Dogtrot Christmas. They always get married in the end of a romance, right?
After life “settled down” following the holidays, I went to work on the project once more, but I just couldn’t tease out an ending that satisfied me. I read up on the posada tradition, thanks to a suggestion from Erin Briggs. I pulled and tugged and finally came up with an ending. But I was over 17,000 words.
I combed through the manuscript one more time, tightening up words, getting rid of excessive description–what an English teacher at UCLA used to call “pruning out the deadwood.” I weighed the value of each word carefully and when I finished, the number was perfect: 16,986, fourteen words to spare!
But best of all, having to think about each word made the story tighter, more focused and succinct. I liked it.
And I finished two weeks early!
How do you put together a story? Do you plot based on length? How do you celebrate when you complete a big writing project?