Tuesday, October 31

Bird by Bird


Right off, Happy Halloween, everyone. I'm not really a fan of Halloween, and since we never get trick-or-treaters at our home on a US highway, it sort of always passes by and I never even notice. But for those of you who do enjoy it, have fun!

My writer friend, Anne Stuart, often quotes Anne Lamott’s story about a time when her little brother was overwhelmed with a science project cataloguing birds that he’d put off. The night before it was due, he said to his father, “How will I ever get this all done?” His dad smiled and answered, “Bird by bird, Son, bird by bird.”

Words to live by—not just in everyday life, but as a writer, too. My newest project is that I’m writing a series about four brothers. Each book is one brother’s story. Unlike when I wrote The Women of Willow Bay series, I started mapping out the guys' stories and began the first book with an event that affected the entire family. A touching and emotional chapter, told from one brother’s POV, where we meet all four brothers at their father’s funeral. Lovely prose, but man, oh man . . . kind of a depressing way to open a book, let alone a whole series. And nobody met the heroine in the first chapter—not us or Colin, which is also not a great way to begin.

So on the advice of two trusted writer pals, I started over, focusing on Colin—brother #3—who needs to be the first story because he’s the one in my head who’s most insistent. That's him over on the left—yeah, Poldark (Aidan Turner) is Colin. And on Samantha, the heroine of Colin’s story because she, too, is waving in my head, saying, “Me too! My story!” She's just below—Isla Fisher, who I know from the film Definitely Maybe, but she's been in a lot of other things, too.

I took the two of them, set them on a stretch of two-lane highway on a rainy November day just after Thanksgiving. She has a flat and although she’s perfectly capable of changing it herself, the damn spare won’t release from under the car. Colin drives past with his four-year-old daughter in the car and stops to help. She’s frustrated, but grateful; he’s hungry and anxious to get home, so the meeting is brief and impersonal, but they stay in each other’s minds . . . and so the story begins.

I can’t tell you how much easier it was to begin Colin and Sam’s story when I stopped trying to sort out all four brothers’ stories in one go. Bird by bird . . . or in this case, brother by brother. I’m a pantser, so bird by bird is the only way this will work for me. The other brothers will necessarily appear in this first book—they must or this won’t be a series about four brothers, but it needs to happen naturally or the whole thing’s going to be a contrived mess that I’ll never dig out from.

Not sure, where I was going with this, so I’ll end on a question: Are you a story planner? Or do you just sit down and start writing? And if you’re writing a series, are all your character already formed when you start or do they develop as you write?

9 comments:

  1. I'm a pantser who does try to plan her stories a bit, but I've never tried to figure out a series beyond who ended up with whom. I think you're on the right track, though.

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    1. Sure hope so! The other brothers are already sneaking into Colin's story, so it will work, I think. Thanks!!

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  2. Hello! I've never been a Halloween fan,either--I enjoy seeing little kiddos dressed up in fun costumes, but the creepy, scary stuff? No Thanks!
    As for writing, I'm a bona fide pantser--I write what comes to me, when it comes to me. All of it develops as I write. Granted, I make sure to show up at m'desk, ready to write most days.
    We pantsers have to stick together--many of those others are intent on 'reforming' us, aren't they? ;)

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    1. Hi, Dana--thanks for stopping by! Yes, we pantsers have to stick together, although I am having to do a bit of organizing to write this series...just to keep everyone straight! ;-)

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  3. Great post, Nan! I'm a bit of a planner, but I'll admit to the characters (and story) veering off my planned path a LOT!

    We're not huge fans of Halloween - although bebe loves Trick-or-Treating and costumes. No really creepy/scary stuff, though.

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    1. Thanks, Kristi! Those characters have a tendency to take over sometimes, don't they? Hope Bebe enjoys trick-or-treating tonight!

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  4. I'm mostly a planner. I like to have an idea where my story is going. However, like Kristina said, sometimes plans go awry!

    I enjoy seeing the little kiddies in their costumes. It's going to be quite cold here tonight so I don't know how many kids will come to the door. I always buy way too many treats. Oh, dear. Maybe we'll have leftovers!

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    1. Hi, Jana--this series does have a theme, more or less...I'm sure it'll all come together as long as I just continue to write.

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  5. I wish I could plan better. But, generally I just dive in. Which I do a lot in my non-writing life as well and often with disastrous results. Mmmmm

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