Once you've sold to a publisher and have been assigned an editor, you're often free to submit new stories "on proposal". This usually means a detailed synopsis plus the first three chapters. If your editor loves it, they buy it and you then move on to finish writing it. Or it's a bad fit, and you're rejected…but at least you only lost time writing three chapters instead of the whole book! Or in my current situation, your very patient editor reads your proposal, tells you there's potential if you address certain issues, and you go back into the writing trenches. Then you resubmit the synopsis, and she makes more suggestions. And back in the ditch you go. I'm in the ditch as I type this! Come on in, the standing water's fine!
Not a complaint, by the way, being in the ditch. It's next to the road, after all. I can see what direction I'm meant to be headed in. After a couple of mark-missers, I'm relieved to finally be on the right track with a proposed book. Plus I understand and appreciate my editor's concerns, so I don't feel I'm being made to change things against my own better judgment.
Into the murky plot forest…could seriously use a fog light
and some binoculars if you want me to map this thing.
It's hard for me because although I consider myself both a plotter and a pantser, I've never before had to flesh out an entire story from the get-go before. I've always written my synopses last—once I know what happens. I'm about fifty-fifty plotter and pantser, and I don't mind a bit of plotting first…until I get to the middle of the story. I NEVER know exactly where a book's going when I start out. I try to know my characters as deeply as I can, but I'll be honest—they're still forming as I write their story, and until I'm several chapters in, recording in a Word doc their movie as it plays in my head, I don't totally understand what makes them tick. But by the time I'm halfway through a book, something always hits me—the next thing that needs to happen. Plus for each book I managed to type "The End" on, there were about a hundred daily walks spent mulling over problems as they arose. I can't simply take one hundred-hour-long walk before I sit down to write and know it all, either—it's a daily, cumulative process.
So the trouble clearly is, I can't wait for the organic answer to my plotting questions when I'm writing on proposal. I need to be able to assure my editor from the start that I know what's happening, and that feels like a shot in the dark, given the way I'm used to working. How can I possibly know what'll happen in the middle, when I'm used to my characters leading me through each chapter as I write it? They're always getting up to stuff I'd never have thought to plot ahead of time, and I rely on those surprises to drive the actions, and even determine the ending.
So this is a learning curve. Just this morning, my editor's latest set of notes shared a worry that the book needs a subplot to give the story a boost in the middle and up the stakes. I found myself dusting off my how-to writing books and rereading the chapters on subplots, and soliciting tips from my Twitter cohorts on the subject. Admitting you have a problem is the first step to fixing it, right? Well right now I can use all the help I can get!
Luckily I do have that one proven plotting trick up my sleeve—the good old long walk. The rain's stopped, so I'm off for a brainstorming session in the park. Hopefully I'll return with a few seedlings of decent ideas, if not the perfect, full-grown solution. And hopefully as I learn to add this more premeditated style of plotting pre-first-draft to my skillset, I'll become a more well-rounded and pragmatic writer. Hopefully.