WIP: Decisions, Decisions

my desk.jpgI’ve (almost) completed the first two chapters of LOVING ANDY. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t usually write any of the manuscript before creating a thorough outline, but these chapters came to me, so I accepted the gift from the muse and put them on paper. Monday I’ll start outlining, using Karen Weisner’s THIRTY DAYS TO A FIRST DRAFT as an experiment, and I’ll report regularly on my progress. Today, though, I’ll share some decisions I’ve made about this novel. Everything, as I’ve mentioned ad nauseum, is subject to change.
Point of View: First Person, with apologies to those of you who dislike it. I think it’s necessary in this book. I have in mind–so far–three characters with distinct voices: Andy, 15, who is  neurologically disabled; his sister, Allie, 18 and highly empathic;  their mother, Joanna, who I haven’t gotten to know well yet, but who I already know is smart, overprotective and guilt-ridden since she’s the cause of Andy’s disabilities. The reader truly needs first person, particularly in Andy’s case, to understand how his mind works. Trust me on it.
Tense: This is a toughie. The story’s coming out in present tense. I think this is because I’ve been toying with a lighter story that was in present tense, and I got used to it. I like the immediacy of it. I picked up several novels I’ve read recently and was surprised to see that they are all written in present tense. Present tense used to bug me. How have I become so inured to it that I don’t even notice it . . . and now choose to write in present tense myself? I’ll have to see how this plays out. I tell you, though, it is a MAJOR drag to go through a manuscript and change the tense from present to past and back again, so I hope I make a firm decision on this soon.
Revelations: How much to reveal when? Always a hard decision, and easier to figure out the more of the story I’ve written. As I worked at the Opium Den this morning, I realized I’d revealed too much about Andy and Allie’s father’s death in Allie’s chapter. It’s too soon, for two reasons. One, it should become a teaser. I’ve revealed just enough to keep the reader turning the pages (I hope) to find out what actually happened. Two, revealing too much now slows the pace of the chapter. Later, I’ll make a “revelation chart” to keep track of who knows what when. For example, let’s say Mary has a secret: she’s married to two men. Joe has a different secret: he’s really a woman. Imagine a spreadsheet. Across the top are the names of each important character and also the word “reader.” Along the side, are the chapter numbers. In chapter four, Joe’s brother, Sam, learns the man is a woman. Where Sam’s name and ‘chapter four” intersect on the spreadsheet, I’ll write “learns woman.” In chapter eight, Mary’s mother, Sue, learns the truth about Mary’s bigamy. So where Sue’s name and ‘chapter eight’ intersect, I’ll write ‘bigamy.” And so forth. Maybe the reader won’t know Joe’s secret until chapter 22. It can get very complicated when you tell stories with many things to reveal, thus the spreadsheet. It’s even more complicated when your characters have yet to reveal a secret to you, the writer, which has happened to me numerous times, most notably in KEEPER OF THE LIGHT. I won’t tell you what I learned from my character Paul Macelli because I don’t want to spoil it for you if you haven’t read the book, but what he “told” me changed the story entirely.
Tightening: I hate tightening. I have so much to say and, like most writers, I can’t imagine that a reader wouldn’t want to know every single detail I’m prepared to tell. But I just woke up from a “creative nap” with the realization that I’ve gone on too long in Allie’s chapter. I talk too much about the past, when what’s happening in the present is much more important. So i’m cutting a chunk of her chapter and adding it to my “for later use” file. Ouch, that hurts.
And one last note: a writer friend long ago taught me to write different drafts on different colored paper to keep them separate from one another. So as you can see, I’m in my pink phase now.
Have a great weekend, everyone. My favorite thing about the weekends is that I allow myself to have some (well, a lot, actually) Goodberry’s frozen custard. Can’t wait! 


  1. brenda on September 9, 2006 at 6:49 pm

    My comments are always so long-I am afterall an ENGLISH TEACHER 🙂 🙂
    However, I must tell you that besides my work and grad school-I refrain from using the telephone unless it is to speak with my children/grandchildren. My friends and I do very short emails…but this BLog is a catharsis…sorry for long-winded answers…will do better.

  2. Diane Chamberlain on September 10, 2006 at 5:25 pm

    i enjoy your comments, brenda. but if you want to make them shorter, you can use this as an opportunity to do what you teach your students: tighten up. this is much on my mind because john just read my first two chapters and those were the two words he had to say. (actually he said a lot more; john never has just two words to say. lol.) i think tightening our writing is one of the hardest things for us to learn to do.

  3. brenda on September 10, 2006 at 6:34 pm

    I call it “cut the fat”
    I think this is a site that is just a great time for us to BREATHE and vent with each other…
    You are brave to let John read your work first… BLOGGING-is journaling-we just type as we talk…writing takes a lot more work. Have a good week. I just finished One of the ANNIE books again-early this A>M> before church…

  4. brenda on September 10, 2006 at 6:36 pm

    P.S. Be sure to let us know how the 30 day book works-I was going to order it but am waiting…for your response…later…no hurry…

  5. Margo on September 11, 2006 at 8:27 am

    Diane, how do I gracefully say ‘PLZ NOT PRESENT TENSE!!’…p.s…I allow myself dairy queen ice cream EVERY NITE before bedtime with whipped cream on top!!…I found out the ice cream is naturally low fat so i feel it’s ok to treat myself…(-:

  6. Diane Chamberlain on September 11, 2006 at 9:56 am

    LOL, margo, about the present tense. i think you’re in luck. maybe. when i reread andy’s chapter, i realized it would work better in past tense. so, do you avoid all present tense books? that must be hard these days.
    how do you stay skinny?? a couple of years ago, i was a daily dairy queen gal myself. you know it’s bad when you walk in and they’ve got your particular concoction waiting for you by the time you reach the counter.
    in this area, there are these goodberry’s frozen custard places. i don’t know how big a chain they are because we didn’t have one in virginia. that stuff is sooooooooo good.

  7. Margo on September 11, 2006 at 10:10 am

    Oh good Diane, I hope ‘present tense’ is out…and yes, I avoid all books written this way (altho, if you chose to write yours in the present tense I would make the exception and definitely read it)…there is something about present tense that has always turned me off…I feel like I’m reading a manuscript for a play and it just doesn’t feel right, nor can I get into the story. If I pickup a book at the bookstore and it starts out in present tense, forget it; I put it down. On the advise of a friend I once read ‘Turtle Moon’ by Alice Hoffman…I literally struggled thru it and it did nothing for me because of the present tense. Regarding the ice cream thing, I’ve always eaten whatever I want but do things in reverse of most people…I eat light during the day (yogurt for lunch) and a HUGE meal at nite being whatever I want…ice cream at bedtime and I always get up in the middle of the nite and have a chocolate candy bar…I have a back condition that doctor’s insisted I needed to do specific workout/exercises since I was 12 and I faithfully workout every morning Mon-Fri for 40 minutes to strengthen my back (Sat & Sun my docs say I can walk and give the hard workouts a break) so my body gets a break on the weekends…probably these workouts help my weight stay the same but I really do them for health reasons…I actually by DQ ice cream by the quart every week and put them in the freezer so there waiting for me whenever I want!!…(-:

  8. Brenda on September 24, 2006 at 7:11 pm

    First person and/or present tense…have noticed several books I read lately-one or the other or both…works for me…

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