Saturday, March 15, 2014

Between the Bindings with Mary Fan

If any of you are wondering why that name sounds familiar, it's because she's the author of Synthetic Illusions and was on my blog a few weeks ago for an interview as part of her Synthetic Illusions Blog Tour.  When I originally started doing this whole "blog tour" thing, I saw that some offered a chance to have the authors do a guest post.  When I signed up for this (this is actually the first blog tour that I signed up for), I kind of shrugged that off because, in all honesty, I couldn't think of a single thing for them to talk about.  Then ... LIGHT BULB ... this is basically a guest post.  I contacted the person running it and told her if Mary would like, she was more than welcome to add me to her tour.

This was before I had a chance to talk to her.  After a few emails back and forth and reading her replies to my interview questions, I'm really glad that I did.  She's an awesome lady, very nice AND has a great imagination.  I loved her book so getting a little insight into how she wrote it, well ... continue reading and you'll see what I mean. :) 

Starting in Chapter 15

Once upon a time, the book world was all about the build-up.  Many of you may remember the "story diagram" from elementary school - a line representing how stories progress.  There was always a flat, ambling line to show the introduction, then the line would go uphill to represent the "rising action" as things build up, and then peak at the climax before falling again in the denouement.

These days, though, readers are impatient.  I imagine a modern story diagram as looking more like a mountain range than a single peak, with the first peak occurring at the very beginning, and each subsequent one growing taller until they reach Mt Everest.  If you're writing commercial fiction, you've got to start with the proverbial "dead body on the first page" to entice a reader's curiosity.  No more introductions to settings; you've got to drop your reader right where the action starts.
Now, this is a bit more of a challenge when you're writing sci-fi or fantasy, as you've got to introduce your readers to a whole different universe.  But whereas back in the day, someone like Tolkien would spend chapters and chapters depicting life as a Hobbit before sending said hobbit off on a quest, modern readers expect Frodo to discover the One Ring by the end of Chapter 1 and be running from wraiths by Chapter 2.  Which is why you'll hear this adage among writers today: "Start your book in Chapter 3."

In the case of Synthetic Illusions, I ended up starting in Chapter 15.  That's no exaggeration - I actually had a full, chapter-by-chapter outline plotted and had written tens of thousands of words following that outline.  And I thought I was adhering to the whole "start where the action starts" rule.  But as I was writing, I kept getting stuck.  I couldn't figure out why at first, since I had plenty going on.  So I ploughed on stubbornly.

Then, I realized what the problem was: the most interesting parts of the story happened in the second half, and chapter 15 was where it really took off.  Everything that happened before was really leading up to the part where Adam's nightmares start touching the real world, and Jane found herself staring down the barrel of her brother's gun to defend him.  Suddenly, the whole adventure I  had planned for Jane and Adam before that part seemed like a meaningless side plot.

Another common adage among writers is "kill your darlings."  In this case, I didn't just kill them - I massacred them.  Went back to the outline to slash, burn, and destroy.  Fifteen chapters - what amounted to 60% of what I had planned - were metaphorically shredded.  And the remaining ten or so, which would have had events happening far too quickly and conveniently if I'd left them as they were, got developed into what I eventually submitted to my publisher.

Even though it meant throwing away all that work, I'm glad I did it.  Synthetic Illusions, as it is now, hits the ground running and barely gives poor Jane a chance to catch her breath.  Which is bad news for her, but hopefully good news for the reader.

Great advice, Mary!!  And it definitely worked because the whole book kept me on the edge of my seat.  Thank you for making yet another stop here at The Gal in the Blue Mask. :)

Until next time y'all .... 


Mary Fan said...

Thanks for hosting me :-)

Meghan H said...

(Seems we both decided to go on vacation around the same time haha) You are very welcome. I'm glad to have had you. And you're welcome back any time :)