It’s been an incredible three weeks since I launched The Girl from Oto. The experience has been a rollercoaster ride that left me feeling a little like a debutante and a little like Rip van Winkle. After working away in my “cave” for so long, and not telling many people that I was writing a book, it’s been hilarious to pop up on peoples’ radar screens with a published novel.
A lot of people knew I was a writer and editor of nonfiction but this project was like nothing I’ve done before. Of course, my “core peeps” have been rooting me on for years and I was thrilled to celebrate with them at my launch party last week. This past week I obsessively watched the sales roll in online and indulged in a continuation of my debutante/Rip van Winkle personal lovefest, capping it off with my birthday this weekend. Now sales have slowed, refreshing my Createspace and Kindle pages is no longer a novelty, and it’s time to get serious about the sequel.
I’ve already written about 10,000 words of the sequel (I did this 8 months ago), but I’ve learned a lot about novel writing since then so before I continue writing I will do some structural work on my story. I’ve become a big fan of Shawn Coyne’s Storygrid book, blog, and podcast. I’ll be outlining my story using his guidelines before I proceed any further with writing. Since I have two narratives I’ll be doing this twice. Sometimes I kick myself for creating a dual-narrative story, but I love the way it turned out in The Girl from Oto, and I know I can do it again.
The valuable thing about following the Storygrid approach is—even though it forces me to use my left-brain, logical mind—I get to plan out the entire book, scene by scene, in advance. Then I’ll go through the whole thing and analyze each scene and each character to make sure they’re doing the work they need to do to propel the story along.
One of the most important things I’ve learned from the Storygrid approach is that each scene must contain “polarity shifts”. So if a scene starts off positive, it can’t stay that way. It can go negative and back to positive, or just go negative, or some other combination thereof. Some people call this the “Fortunately-unfortunately” approach. For example, “Fortunately, the sun was shining, so Mary decided to go out for a walk. Unfortunately, she fell and twisted her ankle. Fortunately, a couple out walking their dog came upon Mary and offered to help. Unfortunately, their dog bit her when she reached out to pet it…” See what I mean?
Even though I’m making an outline, I’ll be adding plot twists down the road based on my research. That’s what happened the first time around and it’s one of the best things about fiction writing. The research drives the creativity, so no matter how amazing you think your story is at the outline stage, it can get much more amazing when you let the research guide you to unchartered territory.
The way I wrote the first novel probably took much longer than it needed to, but every first time doing something takes more time than you’ll ever require again. With the historical section, I’d do a bunch of research and then write a scene based on what I had just learned. The historical narrative tended to flow out of me like molten hot magma (I’m saying that in an Austen Powers voice, by the way), but the contemporary narrative was trickier. I love writing dialogue so I tended to start with conversations between characters and then flesh out scenes from there.
My editor’s main critiques were a) that my historical story needed to be more focused on the protagonist Mira; and b) that my contemporary story was too happy and conflict-free. Now I know to avoid the mistakes I made the first time around, but I’ll still hire an editor. It’s an essential part of the writing process for anyone. And I’ll still rely on my fantastic team of beta readers to give me feedback throughout the process.
The main ingredient for writing the sequel is the same as it was for The Girl from Oto: daily writing time. It was the discipline of sitting down for several hours a day and writing, then rewriting, that got me to this place. There’s no magic to it. I’m excited for the joyful chaos of—as Anne Lamott says—shitty first drafts. It’s fun to just get the story out on the page. Who cares if it’s terrible and the worst thing I’ve ever written? It’s just a first draft. That’s liberating. The real work comes later during revisions.
Here I go…diving into Mira’s Way. Wish me luck!