I am not a plotter by nature. I write based on what characters pop into my head and start talking to me. They get louder and louder until I write them down. Sometimes they give me a scene or a chapter. Sometimes it’s just a conversation. Other times, it turns into an entire book. Once I tell their stories, they fade away and someone new takes over.
While it might not be the most organized way of writing, it works from me. When my characters speak to me, the writing flows and I can disappear into the story. I love writing and it feels easy. That’s not to say that it IS easy, but it feels that way. Knowing that this method works best for me, you’d think I’d stick with it, wouldn’t you? I mean, I’ve gotten two manuscripts published this way, I enjoy doing it, and I’d like to keep doing it for a long time.
You’d be wrong. While writing my second manuscript, I met an awesome critique partner. She and I are like Yin and Yang. Her strengths are my weaknesses and vice versa. We are brutally honest with each other, we keep each other striving to perfect our craft and we’ve even become friends. So I hope you’ll understand my fear when I’d finished the manuscript, edited it, sent it out to a publisher and had it accepted. Now what? I didn’t want to lose her, because I’m not convinced that I’ll ever find a critique partner as good as she is.
So, after doing my happy dance upon getting my publishing contract, I immediately sat down at my computer to begin a new story. Only, there were no characters talking in my head. I had a story idea that I’d wanted to try for some time. It was also a romance, but with a Jewish theme. It would be tricky, because it would have a story within a story and also because I wanted to make sure that it appealed to everyone, regardless of their religion. It would require planning. It would also require the assistance of my non-Jewish critique partner to make sure that what I was writing was clear, understandable and interesting.
I decided to outline what I wanted to write, even though I’ve never, ever been able to use an outline for any writing in my life. Even as a student, I’d complete my papers weeks early in order to write the outline after the fact so that it would match the paper I’d already written. Going against every writing instinct in my body, I wrote an outline and sent it to my critique partner.
At that point, I could have set the outline aside and written from what was in my head, because by that time, I was getting faint murmurs from my characters. I should have, but I didn’t. I sat down, looked at my outline for chapter one and wrote chapter one. It was excruciating. I used every opportunity to become distracted. I took long breaks between scenes and eventually, chapters. So long, in fact, that I continuously had to consult the outline and what I’d written previously, to know what to write next.
But I did it. I wrote the whole story. I stuck to the outline. The first draft, like most first drafts, needs editing and rewriting and will continue to keep my critique partner busy for months. It’s short and needs to be fleshed out in some areas. But none of those issues are the real problem.
Oh no. Did I mention that this story is supposed to be a romance? Well, I left something important out. Nowhere, and I mean nowhere, did I put in any sex scenes. Totally forgot about them. Hello!!! What romance writer does that? I realize that not all romances need to show the sex scenes; my first book had the sex take place behind closed doors. My second one was most definitely “open door.” I don’t want sex in the book just for sex’s sake, but come on, these characters are supposed to fall in love and have sexual chemistry!
I was so focused on getting everything down in the outline, and then following the outline exactly, that I completely forgot to have my hero and heroine demonstrate any physical attraction for each other. And there lies the problem. I’m not used to having to “make” my characters do anything. When I write, my characters lead the story. They tell me what they want to do and say. It doesn’t always work, but it’s organic. When they fall in love, it seems like the most natural thing in the world. When they sneak a glance or covert touch, the reader roots for them and wants more. The love my characters feel for each other, and how they show it, is not based on what my outline says should happen. As I’ve now seen, when my outline dictates my writing (and please understand that this is only a judgment of my own writing), my story is stilted and emotionless.
So, for my next round of edits, I’ll be tossing that outline out and writing from my heart. Isn’t that where romance comes from anyway?
About the Author: Jennifer is a chocolate-loving romance writer who’s days are filled chauffeuring her daughters to too many after-school activities, volunteering at school and temple and trying to steal time away with her husband. When all of that gets overwhelming, she retreats to her computer, where she write stories that let her escape from reality. She has two books published with Whiskey Creek Press: A Heart of Little Faith and Skin Deep. She can be reached at: www.jenniferwilck.com or http://www.facebook.com/pages/Jennifer-Wilck/201342863240160. She also writes a blog, Fried Oreos, at www.jenniferwilck.wordpress.com.