Nearly three years ago, an idea sparked a story in my mind. The story so enthralled my new mommy neurons, dulled by repeated late night feedings and thousands of diaper changes, I decided to write it down. At age twenty seven, with high school and college English classes so far in my rear-view-mirrow I could no longer diagram a sentence to save my life, I sat on my screened porch while my son slept and began to “timeline” my first novel. I say “timeline” with quotes because I knew novels needed plots, knew they had an arc, but had not one single clue how to go about plotting.
I spent one year completing and editing my novel, the novel, I swore, would stop the Earth’s rotation. Instead, I spent the year doing all the things a popular fiction novelist is NOT supposed to do. Head hopping. Writing passively. Misplacing modifiers. Dangling participles. And so on. Luckily, I didn’t fly off the handle and query my masterpiece across the globe. I waited. I joined a writers group and learned so much.
I took a self-editing class and spent another year writing novel number two in my romantic suspense series. (If you’re new, don’t worry. Most novels don’t take a year to write. Mine do because, though I love to write and want to write published novels for the rest of my life, raising my kids to become self-sufficient, Earth aiding, intrinsically happy adults who can cope with the rigors of life with grace is my priority. For now, nap times and late nights are my only write times.) Boy oh boy, self-editing is magical! It doesn’t take the place of a professional editor, but it’ll help them and your story out tremendously. My sentences rocked and my story came alive in the way I’d hoped for the first. Of course, I had to take my newfound skills on a walk through my first novel. A smashing time, where I literally rewrote half the content.
Mission accomplished. Two novels ready to go. After two years of work, I submitted my first novel to a rather large contest and waited for the cheers and squeals of the judges to reach me. Ha! You remember that bit about plot. The bit I fudged in the beginning. Yep, it turned around and bit me in the bottom. I wriggled and danced so much in an effort to get out of the way, I broke my writing ankle. Ouch, right?
My battered backside, limping leg and ego decided to take a plotting workshop because nothing is going to stop this train…only slow its arrival. In plotting bootcamp, I learned about themes, loglines, premise, character roles and the importance of a written description for each integral role, setting, conflict, story structure (the arc) and how to plot it all in a snappy spreadsheet. AMAZING! In two short weeks I have the complete skeleton for a new novel. All I have to do now is write it.
Do I have more to learn? Without a doubt, yes! Will I? Yes, one step at a time. So, watch your ankles and plots, and when all else fails, take a workshop.
Megan Mitcham, Author