WIP (Work in Progress): Day One

I realized that in order to talk about my WIP without giving away any story elements, I’ll have to speak in general terms. So here goes: 

I’m writing this book without my usual giant outline. As a matter of fact, I have exactly two sentences describing the story and that’s it! So I’m starting fresh. I will be outlining, however. Outlines can be just as much of a drag when writing a novel as they were when we were in the eighth grade, but for me, they’re necessary. First, I write on deadline, so I don’t have time to go off in directions that might lead me down the wrong path. Second, my stories usually have twists in them that even I don’t know about until they jump out at me, so I have to be able to return to earlier parts of the story to foreshadow or plant events that will lead naturally to those surprises. Outlining is hard, though, especially when all I know of the story is contained in two sentences. I expect creating the outline will take me about a month.

So, I spent the morning at Starbucks, where I worked on getting to know some of my characters, thought about what structure to use, whether to use first or third person, made a “date chart”, decided on a setting, and began puzzling out some of the thornier problems I have to solve in the plot. In the afternoon, I continued the process in my sunroom. Everything at this point I do with pen and yellow pad. There is nothing like a blank yellow pad to get my creative juices flowing!
I will refer to the date chart repeatedly throughout the book to keep my facts straight. It tells me what year my sisters were born, when they graduated high school, were married, and other significant milestones in their lives. As new characters are created, the same information will be added to the chart about them.
I put together some general information about each sister. They are currently named Natalie and Haley, but dollars to doughnuts, that will change as I get to know them better. At the start of the day, they were twins. At the end of the day, I’d made Natalie two years older than Haley. General information includes physical description, personality, psychological defense mechanisms, and so on. {TIP for writers: look up “defense mechanisms” on the internet. We all use them; they are not necessarily negative and can be a way to protect ourselves from pain. Think about which of them fits your characters.}
Right now, I think I’ll tell the story in third person, from each of the sisters’ POV (point of view). Possibly, I’ll add the POVs of other characters as well. I long to tell the story in first person from each of their POVs as I did in THE BAY AT MIDNIGHT, but I think this story might work better in third. {TIP: When you’re in one character’s POV, remember you ONLY know what that character knows. Check your manuscripts carefully to be sure you don’t slip up. It’s easy to do. You can always use omniscient POV if it is not jarring, but this is not frequently used these days. My theory is, you can do anything you like as long as it doesn’t distract the reader from the story}.
The structure I’m thinking of using is to open with a chapter in the present day when a crisis is occurring in the sisters’ lives and a clock is ticking. Then I’ll go back to the sisters’ teenage years and use the bulk of the book to follow their lives in order to see how they arrived at the current crisis. Finally, return to present time when the crisis truly explodes and the characters deal with the outcome. {TIP: Many new writers start their books too early. Way too early. Start with something guaranteed to catch your readers attention}.
That’s enough for today. All the ideas I came up with in Day One are sure to be altered in the days to come. Sigh. That’s the way it goes. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to watching Natalie and Haley as they come to life!


  1. Margo on August 7, 2006 at 9:16 am

    Diane…I’m so excited about your new book and thrilled to be able to read your WIP!!…your wonderful to share the process with us…

  2. Lorene on August 7, 2006 at 10:39 am

    I can’t wait! I agree with Margo that you’re wonderful to share with us as you write.

  3. Diane Chamberlain on August 7, 2006 at 1:19 pm

    Hi guys! i’m happy to see you find this stuff interesting. thanks for the encouragement.

  4. Brenda on August 8, 2006 at 5:59 pm

    I will look forward to reading more about Haley and Natalie and as I begin to start the new school year-teaching in two high schools, attending grad school at night, and “playing” at wife, mom, and nana…I hope I will survive this year and enjoy your next book…sounds great.
    If I sound tired-just spent a glorious trip in D. World in the wonderful HEAT with three darling little granddaughters (and their parents)…it was too hot for this NANA but so much fun-a book there I believe…

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