My Uninhibited Third Book & Self-Indulgent Fourth Book
Updated: Oct 29, 2020
Hey. It's been a while
Or rather, it's been a long while. I have neither reason nor excuse for taking an (accidental) six-month hiatus from this blog, but I assure you I've been busy at work on my third book. So busy, in fact, that I finished the first draft on October twenty-second. I wrote an elusive post about it one year ago, but I'd like to share with you now what I learned through writing this book, and what the deal is with my fourth book.
Hey Alyssa, what is that book about again?
Nice try. Do you really think I'm going to tell you anything?
Oh, all right, I'll tell you a little bit, but only because I can hear you groveling through the computer screen. It's a mashup of horror and historical fiction and takes place in the recent past, i.e., the twentieth century. It's also a Young Adult novel, of course, so all the characters are in high school.
There's hockey, roller skates, a mountainous locale, love triangles galore, brother rivalry, and a mysterious Russian girl with a tortured backstory. Oh, and there's an invisible monster terrorizing the main characters and burying their neighbors in the woods. You know, typical horror stuff.
So now you're probably wondering what I learned about writing during this time... or maybe you're not, but wouldn't it be interesting to know anyway? Sure, yeah. Why not.
I wrote this book out of order
At least, it started that way. I wrote the opening scene first, and then a few more scenes sporadically until about the first quarter mark. Then I went back in and filled out the scenes in-between.
I also wrote several scenes I didn't end up using. I had no reason for writing out of order like this, other than satiating my curiosity about writing nonlinearly--which is contrary to how I normally write.
Verdict: writing scenes out of order was enjoyable but not revolutionary. I'm proud of myself for experimenting and wouldn't mind trying this in the future, but I don't know that it'll be a technique I use in future first books. I will say, however, that it was helpful writing point A and point B, rather than writing point A and waiting around for inspiration to tell me how to draw the line to point B. I just drew that line whenever I wanted.
This book has an omniscient third-person narration
Typically, I write in first-person point of view. This is my favorite perspective to write from, and this is the standard perspective in YA literature. I chose to do an omniscient third-person narration not only to challenge myself but because I thought this best suited the story since we follow around four main characters.
When I had all four characters in one scene, I would sometimes jump perspectives in the middle of the scene. Omniscient is much more suited to head-hopping than third-person limited, so this was a major plus for me.
Verdict: I loved writing this way and would love to try it again. Omniscient isn't popular in YA today (in fact, it might even be discouraged), but it feels so old-timely and reminds me of the classics. It felt refreshing to write this story using my own voice, rather than adapting my voice to fit a teenage, first-person narration.
I spent hours doing research
Since the setting of this book predates me, I had to google a ton of obscure stuff any person over forty would know. To help me with this research, I turned to my favorite historical figures of the twentieth century--my parents. They were a goldmine of random pop culture nuggets during the drafting process and will continue to be as I edit. Needless to say, I've affectionately nicknamed this my "Teen Boomer Book" in their honor.
Of course, I also spent hours researching more meaty stuff, like the political landscape, the economy, world events, fashion trends, and technology. On a smaller scope, I read through and archived dozens of local newspapers and tracked them on a print-out calendar of the year it takes place, just so I could keep track of various events.
One of the hardest aspects of research was geography. I've been to the place I'm setting this book, but I had to find out which buildings were still there at the time, and which businesses occupied them. Then I had to find a way to describe these no-longer-existing buildings or businesses.
Verdict: The research is never-ending and I still have a long way to go.
I have no idea how to write horror
I have very little idea of what the conventions are, what readers expect, or what's been done. In one sense, this might be good. It'll be harder to rip anyone off or take shortcuts, but on the other hand, it could still not meet readers' expectations or really feel like horror. I tried reading a couple of horror books back in February, but I hated both of them and finished reading neither.
Verdict: I do plan on steeping myself in horror again. Hopefully, I can find some books or movies I like. I know it'll help me work through my edits.
I outlined in reverse
Just as I did with my first two books, I outlined the bigger plot points of the book. When I say that I outlined in reverse, what I mean is that, after I wrote each chapter, I typed out on a separate document what I had written in that chapter, and noted which perspective we were reading from. This was helpful for me because this book is so big. We see four points of view and several subplots, so this was a great way of giving me a bird's eye view--and helped me keep track of everything. I call it my "Reverse Outline."
Verdict: I will for sure be doing this in the future and wish I had done it in the past!
I had an inordinate amount of confidence writing this book
You know how I mentioned outlining the big plot points before the drafting process? Yeah, didn't work. With few exceptions, I hardly followed my outline. Sometimes (er, um, oftentimes) when I sat down to write, I scarcely knew what I was going to write about. This made for some long-winded and occasionally-irrelevant scenes that I ended up stowing away or deleting from the draft. I cut probably five to ten thousand words from a main character's arc that simply wasn't working. In fact, I almost omitted this character from the book altogether. I ended up keeping her but modifying her character arc to fit the major themes of the book (previously, her arc was talking a whole different turn, and it simply did not fit).
I mention this because I wrote so much of this draft not knowing whether or not I was going to keep it in there. I was well-aware of the fact that I would probably need to rewrite a majority of this book. In other words, I knowingly wrote the wrong thing for the book. Why? Because writing the wrong thing is better than writing nothing at all. And usually, writing the wrong this will tell you what you don't want the book to be about. It narrows down your possibilities and will ultimately streamline the story in future drafts.
So yes, there was a lot of throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what stuck. As stressful as it sounds, I don't think I could have written this book any other way. I prioritized having fun over writing a perfect first draft. And you know what? I had a blast writing this book. I didn't worry about anything. I didn't fear fixing it later, and although this book feels as messy as a steaming pile of poo right now, I'm hoping that, upon reading it back for the first time in a few weeks from now, it'll be better than I thought it was. If it's not, that's okay too. I felt more confident writing this crazy, unbelievably ambitious novel than anything else I've ever written... and I'm positive that confidence will carry into the second draft, too.
All right, enough about that... what's this about a fourth book?
Yep. So there's this thing in November called National Novel Writing Month--NaNoWriMo for short. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000-word novel in one month. I've never done it before, but I figured it would be a good pallet-cleansing project. It'll force me to step away from the project I've been working on for ten months.
Instead of my usual young adult, I'm writing middle grade! This means the protagonist is in middle school--seventh grade, to be exact. I described this book as "self-indulgent" in the title because I'm setting it the same year I was in seventh grade--2008--and because I'll be drawing on my own experiences. There's also going to be lots of fun pop culture references, and when I say pop culture references, what I really mean is:
But also this, because every girl in my class had read it except me and I felt left out. I still haven't read it, to be honest. Maybe next year.
Anyway, I have no intention of getting it published or sharing it with anyone. I'm writing it with the purpose of reflecting on a bygone era (the 2000s) and laughing at how embarrassing I was (thank GOD I'm not embarrassing anymore. Nope. Not at all.). I'm writing it for me. And it's been years since I've written anything just for me.
If you want to watch me track my word count for NaNo, follow me here.