NOT YOUR USUAL SUSPECTS

A group blog featuring an international array of killer mystery, suspense, and romantic suspense writers. With premises and story lines different from your run-of-the-mill whodunits, we tend to write outside the box. We blog several times a week on all topics relating to romantic suspense and mystery, our writing, and our readers. We welcome all comments! and often have guest bloggers.

We find our genre delightfully, dangerously, and deliciously exciting - join us here, if you do too!


Julie Moffet . Clare London . Cathy Perkins . Jean Harrington . Daryl Anderson . Nico Rosso . Maureen A. Miller . Marcelle Dube . Sandy Parks . Lisa Q Mathews . Sharon Calvin . Lynne Connolly . Janis Patterson

Monday, August 29, 2016

A Work in Progress

When you're the author of a book on writing, it's kind of inevitable that you will receive a lot of email regarding your own creative "process." (I put process in quotes because it's such an organized-sounding word for the weird unpredictable and erratic activity that is my version of writing.)


One thing I talk a lot about when I'm posting on writing is what I call layering. Basically that just means I write a lot of drafts. By reassuring myself that I will be "layering" in all the important and cool stuff later, I give myself permission to write what is frequently referred to in writing circles as the "shitty first draft".


For someone like me, it's really hard to write a first draft. Smothering my inner critic is incredibly difficult, but I have to put a pillow over her face in order to achieve that state of justpouringitoutasitcomestome which is pretty much what a rough/first draft is. You start with nothing but a blank page and then you try to build a world and characters so engaging, so believable, that others can lose themselves wandering through the hallways of your mind.


Now there is no one way to write. Anything you have to do to get the story down on paper (even cyber paper) is the correct procedure. And that initial hammer and nails, hauling up the framework, is generally a messy, ugly, sweaty business. But you have to have that foundation in order to layer on the good stuff. The drywall and flooring of the second draft. And then eventually, by the time you get to official edits, the paint and furnishings and décor.


Right now I'm working on Fair Chance, which is the third and final book in the All's Fair Series (which I'm writing for Carina Press).


And since I never do this -- and since we needed a blog this morning -- I thought I would show a bit of the layering that takes place between drafts one and two.


DRAFT ONE




“I knew you’d come.”


Andrew Corian, dubbed “The Sculptor” by the national press, was smiling that same old smile. Supremely confident and a little scornful. For a moment it was as almost as if he was seated at his desk in his old office at PSU and not in this dingy interview room at The Federal Detention Center in Sea-Tac.


“Sure you did,” Elliot said. He had been second-guessing the decision to meet with Corian from the minute he’d acceded to SAC Montgomery’s request, and Corian’s supercilious attitude just confirmed his doubts. They were not going to get anything useful out of The Sculptor.


Corian’s big hands, wrists handcuffed, rested on the resin table top. He spread his fingers, palms up in a have a seat gesture as Elliot took the chair across the table.


 “How could you resist? A chance to play hero one last time. A chance to convince yourself you got the better of me.”


“You’ve been hitting the psych shelves in the prison library pretty hard,” Elliot commented, folding his arms on the table top. He glanced casually around the room. He’d been in plenty of these interview rooms back when he’d been with the FBI. Neutral colors. Durable furniture. Mesh over the windows. Generic right down to the two-way mirror behind which stood Detective Pine of Tacoma Homicide and FBI Special Agent Kelli Yamiguchi.


Just in case they missed anything, the cameras overhead were recording the interview.


Corian’s eyes, a weird shade of hazel that looked almost yellow in the institutional light, narrowed at Elliot’s jibe, but his broad smile never faltered. He seemed to be a in great mood for a guy looking at a multiple life sentences.


“I don’t need to read a psychology book to understand you, Mills. There’s nothing complicated about your psyche.”


“But enough about me,” Elliot said. “Let’s talk about your favorite subject. You. Or more exactly, why you wanted to see me.”


Corian sat back in his chair. He looked a bit like a cartoonist’s idea of the devil. Gleaming bald head and immaculately trimmed Vandyke. He was a big man and prison had made him bigger. Leaner. Harder. He looked like he ate steroids for every meal and spent all his free time body-building. Maybe the body-building wasn’t far from the truth. There wasn’t a hell of a lot to do while sitting around waiting for trial. Not when you’d been caught red-handed, as it were, in a series of brutal slayings and mutilations spanning more than fifteen years.


He said, “I didn’t want to see you, Mills. I gave you permission to visit. That’s all.”


“Two letters in two months? We’re practically pen pals. Come off it, Corian. You want me to sit here and listen to you explain in detail how brilliant you were. How brilliant you still are compared to the rest of us.”


Corian’s smile widened. “That wouldn’t be the only reason.”


“It’ll be the main reason. You’re sure as hell not interested in bringing closure to the families of the victims.”


“You’ve never understood me, Mills.”


“You’re right about that.


“But you’re afraid of me.”


Elliot sighed. “No, Andrew. I’m not.”


They had never been on first name terms. Corian replied, “You should be, Elliot.”


“This is bullshit.” Elliot made sure his tone revealed nothing but boredom. “If the idea was to get me here so you could practice your bogeyman routine, you’re wasting both our time.” He pushed his chair back as though to rise.


Corian sat back and expelled an exasperated sigh. “Goddamn, Mills. Can’t you at least buy me a drink before you screw me over?”


“Look, you wrote me. I’m not looking to continue our relationship--if you want to call it that. I don’t need closure. I got my closure when they slammed those cell doors on you.”


That wasn’t completely true. Like everyone else involved in the case, Elliot wasn’t going to truly breathe a sigh of relief until Corian was tried and convicted. He wanted the reassurance of knowing Corian was locked up in a maximum facility until the end of time. The numerous court date postponements were wearing on everyone’s nerves.


Corian had the gall to look wounded. It was only partly an act. Being a psychopath, his own pain and his own frustrations were very real to him. It was the suffering of other people he was indifferent to.


“I’d appreciate a little courtesy. A few minutes of intelligent conversation. Or as close as you can manage.”


Elliot eyed him without emotion. “All right. But we don’t have all day. If you’ve got something to say, you’d better say it.”


Corian leaned back in his chair, smiling. “How’s the fall session shaping up? Have they hired someone to replace me yet?”


 “Oh, no one could replace you,” Elliot said sarcastically.


“True.” Corian grinned. “How’s Rollie? I read his book. When you think about it, it’s pretty ironic. The only child of a celebrity sixties radical joining the FBI.”


 “Yep. Ironic. Are we done with the chitchat?”


Corian’s smile faded. “All right. Ask your questions.”


“As of this date, sixteen bodies have been removed from the cellar of your property in Black Diamond, bringing the number of victims to twenty-three. Is that it? Is that an accurate headcount? Or are there more?”


“Headcount.” Corian’s smile was pure Mephistophelian. Partly he was acting. Partly he was simply…evil.


 



-----------------------------


Basically the first draft amounts to talking heads and feeling my way through the scene, trying to figure out what's really happening between these two. Part of the dialog will be placeholder because I'm still fine tuning character and relationship dynamics. I don't waste time on researching details at this stage because there's so much else to think about and I don't even know what those details should be yet.


Then, about seven or so chapters in, once I can see a bit farther than the reach of my head lights, I go back and start filling in the blanks, making the story feel real for both me and the eventual reader. This second draft is actually the most fun because it's where the story comes alive. It's where I begin to lose myself in that world I've created.


DRAFT TWO




“I knew you’d come.”


Andrew Corian, dubbed “The Sculptor” by the national press, was smiling that same old smile. Supremely confident and a little scornful. For a moment it was as almost as if he was seated at his desk in his old office at PSU and not in this sterile interview room at The Federal Detention Center in Sea-Tac.


“Sure you did,” Elliot said.


Corian’s powerful hands, thick wrists handcuffed, rested on the resin table top. He spread his fingers, palms up in a have a seat gesture as Elliot took the plastic chair across the table.


He had been second-guessing the decision to meet with Corian from the minute he’d acceded to SAC Montgomery’s request, and Corian’s supercilious attitude just confirmed his doubts. They were not going to get anything useful out of The Sculptor.


 “How could you resist?” Corian was saying. “A chance to play hero one last time. A chance to convince yourself you got the better of me.”


“Sounds like you’ve been hitting the psych shelves in the prison library pretty hard.” Elliot folded his arms on the table top, glanced casually around the room.


He’d been in plenty of these interview cells back when he’d been with the FBI. Neutral colors. Durable furniture. Mesh over the frosted windows. A guard outside the door. Generic right down to the two-way mirror behind which stood Detective Pine of Tacoma Homicide and FBI Special Agent Kelli Yamiguchi.


Just in case Pine and Yamiguchi missed anything, cameras overhead were recording the interview.


Corian’s eyes, a weird shade of hazel that looked almost yellow in the harsh institutional light, narrowed at Elliot’s jibe, but his broad smile never faltered. He seemed to be in a great mood for a guy looking at a multiple life sentences.


“I don’t need to read a psychology book to understand you, Mills. There’s nothing complicated about your psyche.”


“But enough about me,” Elliot said. “Let’s talk about your favorite subject. You. Or more exactly, why you wanted to see me.”


The rough material of Corian’s prison khakis rustled as he sat back in his chair. He looked a bit like a cartoonist’s idea of the devil. Gleaming bald head and immaculately trimmed Vandyke. He was a big man and prison had made him bigger. Leaner. Harder. He looked like he ate steroids with every meal and spent all his free time body-building. Maybe the body-building wasn’t far from the truth. There wasn’t a hell of a lot to do while sitting around waiting for trial. Not when you’d been caught red-handed, as it were, in a series of brutal slayings and mutilations spanning more than fifteen years.


He said, “I didn’t want to see you, Mills. I gave you permission to visit. That’s all.”


“Two letters in two months? We’re practically pen pals. Come off it, Corian. You want me to sit here and listen to you explain in detail how brilliant you were. How brilliant you still are compared to the rest of us.”


Corian’s smile widened. “That wouldn’t be the only reason.”


“It’ll be the main reason. You’re sure as hell not interested in bringing closure to the families of the victims.”


It was quiet in the interview room. On the other side of the heavy sound-proofed door a symphony of discordant sounds were reaching crescendo level: guards yelling, Televisions blasting, prisoners shouting, the incessant thunder of an industrial strength plumbing system, the chatter and buzz of walkie-talkies, the jangle of keys and slamming of steel doors.


“You’ve never understood me, Mills.”


“You’re right about that.”


“But you’re afraid of me.”


Elliot sighed. “No, Andrew. I’m not.”


They had never been on first name terms. Corian replied, “You should be, Elliot.”


“This is bullshit.” Elliot made sure his tone revealed nothing but boredom. “If the idea was to get me here so you could practice your bogeyman routine, you’re wasting both our time.” He pushed his chair back as though to rise.


Corian sat back and expelled an exasperated sigh. “Goddamn, Mills. Can’t you at least buy me a drink before you screw me over?”


The indignation was almost funny.


“Look, you wrote me. I’m not looking to continue our relationship--if you want to call it that. I don’t need closure. I got my closure when they slammed the cell door on you.”


That wasn’t completely true. Like everyone else involved in the case, Elliot wasn’t going to truly breathe a sigh of relief until Corian was tried and convicted. He wanted the reassurance of knowing Corian was locked up in a maximum facility until the end of time. The numerous court date postponements were wearing on everyone’s nerves.


Corian had the gall to look wounded. It was only partly an act. Being a psychopath, his own pain and his own frustrations were very real to him. It was the suffering of other people he was indifferent to.


“You want something from me. So be it. I’d appreciate a little courtesy. A few minutes of intelligent conversation. Or as close as you can manage.”


Elliot eyed him without emotion. “All right. But we don’t have all day. If you’ve got something to say, you’d better spit it out.”


Corian leaned back in his chair, smiling. “How’s the fall session shaping up? Have they hired someone to replace me yet?”


 “Oh, no one could replace you,” Elliot said.


“True.” Corian merely grinned at the sarcasm. “How’s Rollie? I read his book. When you think about it, it’s pretty ironic. The only child of a celebrity sixties radical joining the FBI.”


 “Yep. Ironic. Are we done with the chitchat?”


Corian’s smile faded. “All right. Ask your questions.”


“As of this date, sixteen bodies have been removed from the cellar of your property in Black Diamond, bringing the number of victims to twenty-three. Is that it? Is that an accurate headcount? Or are there more?”


“Headcount.” Corian’s smile was pure Mephistophelian. Partly he was acting. Partly he was simply…evil.


 
-------------------
Most of what I've written stays, but I start paring it down. Trying to say what I need to say in the fewest, cleanest words possible. Saving space for the sensory details that make a story come alive. Looking at pacing and making sure I'm not getting in the way of the characters.


Of course, my work isn't close to being done. After I've got a decent second draft, it goes to my editor and there will be more cleaning and pruning and adding and embellishing. And then copyedits and then line edits. Ideally with each round the story is getting tighter and more emotionally focused, more readable.


What about you? How many drafts do you write? How much does the book change from your original draft to your final draft? At what point do you lose yourself in your storytelling?

6 comments:

Anne Marie Becker said...

Thank you for this, Josh! I know what guts it takes to put the "shitty" draft out there for all to view. ;)

I have a similar process, where I typically write the first 2-3 chapters quickly, getting to know my characters and deciding where the action truly starts. Then I do some plotting (if the story's coming to me). Or I'll go back and tinker with those initial chapters, tightening and layering until I like them or until inspiration for what comes next strikes. Overall, I do at least 3-4 passes of the manuscript before it's ready, though I've done as many as 12, depending on the story. Lately, I've had less patience for plotting and it's messing with my head (and my work!). So I appreciate the reminder that the first draft is allowed to suck. ;D

Toni Anderson said...

Great post, Josh. I write about 5 drafts to get to the shitty first draft stage :) I must be an overachiever.

I write a little like Anne Marie. I plot, I write a few chapters, I plot some more. I add a thread and then I go back and start again. I've tried writing through to the end but it doesn't work for me. I need the front half constructed properly (if roughly) before the rest flows. Writing isn't easy LOL.

Rita said...

I do a lot of back story first. Why this is happening, what they want, what's going to stop them from getting it. Also in first drafts everyone and the world is sooo perfect. All unicorns and rainbows. So second drafts I have to get real. :-)

Josh Lanyon said...

Anne Marie, I think writing mysteries and crime fiction is a little different anyway because it's almost mandatory to keep circling back and adding forensic details and clues and beefing up potential suspects--in addition to strengthening all the other stuff like subplots and emotional subtext.

Josh Lanyon said...

Hi Toni,

Same for me. I get to the halfway point and then I have to go back and start reworking. But I have to get to a certain point before I know what to rework. It's not a linear process. It would be so much easier if it was.

Josh Lanyon said...

LOL, Rita. I think we all have to fight that desire to create happy, perfect worlds. :-D

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