Monday, August 20, 2012

by Joan

I have a bad case of wanderlust. It’s why I perk up when planning my next getaway and why I love to write stories set in foreign locales. I not only love to travel, I get a kick out of packing, too. I like those multi-sized square zipper packs so everything is compartmentalized. One size for shirts, one for pants, one for socks, and pajamas. I save the plastic packaging from pillowcases to hold shoes and slippers or bathing suits, and sometimes use plastic wrap to keep delicate blouses wrinkle-free.

But sometimes my packing strategy is a bit too clever. I often have to take out four bags to get to the two underneath. And despite the mesh openings that give a hint of what’s inside, I often end up opening every zipped bag to find out where the heck I put my navy tunic. And the whole process is a bust if I forget to pack my navy shoes.

Like packing for a long trip, writing dual timeline narratives is a complicated endeavor. It requires style sheets, storyboards and outlines to keep characters and plot details straight, and family trees to track the generations. Each character has their own separate tab on my excel spreadsheet, as though they have their own separate travel bag.

Like my travel strategy, sometimes I get so caught up in trying to be clever and smart with my writing that I forget I’m trying to tell a story. Yes, the prose must be elegant and tight, yes, the characters must be flawed and compelling, yes, the dialogue must be snappy and authentic. But nothing trumps a good story.

I was reminded of this recently when writing a synopsis for my current manuscript. I had already written the book, revised several times, yet I found myself questioning character motives and goals, and studying each chapter to make sure each scene moved the story forward. Kim suggested I read Wired for Story, by Lisa Cron, and this powerful book pushed me even further. 

I’m in the planning stages of my next manuscript—researching locales and interviewing characters. Before I start packing all my clever ideas, I’m going to write the story. Mostly, I’m looking for a place I’ve never been, someplace where others will want to follow.

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