Aug 30, 2011

The success equation...or when the stars align

I’ve been thinking about timing the past few months. Both in the big scheme of things and in my MS.

Last week I was offered a job. It’s the perfect position for me right now: perfect place, time and expectations. The offer came about through two events: the fact that three years ago I changed careers and got an advanced degree so I could teach; and that four years ago, my son’s name was pulled from a lottery so he could attend a charter school. The first I definitely controlled. The second had nothing to do with me, other than the fact I entered his name in the lottery. The job offer came because preparedness met opportunity in my favor.

Luck = preparedness + opportunity + timing.

Back when I was a reporter in Seattle, I met Bret Lott, who wrote Jewel, one of Oprah's earliest book club choices. I told him that 99 percent of writers couldn’t possibly expect to have the same luck he did. “Of course not,” he told me (and I paraphrase bc this was a while ago). “But that’s no reason not to write. I never would’ve been lucky had I not been writing.”

Which was kind of nice to hear. Write, I can do. Revise, I can do. And if I can do nothing about timing, *shrugs* neither can anyone else.

Since my almost-finished WIP is a mystery, timing is crucial. I’ve got to build tension gradually, dropping clues like breadcrumbs at just the right intervals so I don’t lose/choke my reader. This is killing me right now – avoiding info dump in those first three chapters while keeping my word count low. There are certain things my MC must know right away and, since this is based on a true story, that translates to a lot of info.

It all leads to a really cool, suspenseful ending so there’s only so much I can cut or move to later. Which leads back to the info-dump problem.

It’s the revision catch-22, the endless merry-go-round I can’t get off.

So please, oh-gentle-and-more-experienced writer, what’s the equation to dropping key info in at the right time?

Timing = information + pacing + ???

Later this week or next, Cole Gibsen will share her publishing journey. Please join us!

17 comments:

Sarah Pearson said...

I wish I had the answer, but I'll be interested in seeing if those wiser than me come up with anything!

Trisha Leaver said...

Hmm . . . the dreaded info-dump. My advice: look at the back-story and the placement. Is that chunk of expository important to that particular scene, not the entire ms, but that one particular scene? If not lose it. Remember you have an entire ms, some 300 pages to revel your MC’s history. Give only the bare essentials up front and weave the rest in as you go.

Cortney said...

That is definitely a tough call! I'm a fellow Campaigner, btw, just dropping in to say hi!

Jennifer Pickrell said...

Your paraphrase of Bret Lott reminded me of something a guy I used to work with always said, "You gotta be in it to win it." (although he may have been talking about the lottery :))

I second Trisha's advice - if the info isn't necessary to move the story forward, delete it. Or if it needs to be told immediately, weave it into the scenes gradually so it's not all one huge chunk.

Lisa L. Regan said...

Yeah, I try to "sprinkle" a little backstory here and there. That way the reader isn't overwhelmed and bored. I think this is one of those things about writing that everyone struggles with!

Deana said...

I would like the wiser ones to speak up about that as well because I mean I know about the weaving it in, but how about tell us more:)

Melodie said...

Thanks all for commenting!
Lisa - you're probably right. I'm just struggling with this MS more than I have b4 bc it's a complicated storyline.

Jennifer & Trisha: Yeah, weaving in gradually is great. My problem is the word count. It's all relevant to my plot but something's got to go. Must figure this out w/o sacrificing tension...

Hi Courney and Sarah! *waves*

AllMyPosts said...

No one knows the perfect answer for the question!!


Well, your WIP is mystery?? cool .. looking forward to read it!!

with warm regards
Another Author

Nancy Thompson said...

Geez, that's a hard one. I think it's most important to feel natural. I always put myself in my my character's shoes and made them act as I would in each situation.

So when you think you're dumping too much info in, then you probably are. That's your gut feeling so trust it.

Make a list of the info you need to include for the reader to understand. (HINT: It's usually a lot less than you would think.) Then add a little every now and then. Never in big chunks or in any way that comes off as telling rather than showing.

When you meet a new friend, you never tell them your life story all at once. You only give details as they pertain to the moment. That's how your book should work, too.

Good luck!!

(BTW - I was a judge in Deana's GUTGAA contest so I know a little about your ms and I think it sounds great and you are an amazing writer!)

Carrie Butler said...

Congratulations on the job offer, Melodie! :) I really like the Lott advice. We'll never know what might've been, if we stop now. Onward!

Melodie said...

Nancy, the whole meeting-a-new-friend thing is a great comparison, kind of like the breadcrumbs idea.

And Carrie, since I can't stop anyway - tried, epic fail - I remind myself of that.

Hello Another Author! Thanks for stopping by - I'll return the favor soon.

Jolene Perry said...

I've written quite a few books, and just started a mystery. WAY WAY harder!!
Good luck!

Caroline Tung Richmond said...

Aw, I love that quote from Bret Lott! I may need to pull that out whenever I'm feeling a bit blue about writing. Lovely post!

Krista said...

Congrats! You have received an award on my blog. Stop by to claim it.

cleemckenzie said...

I think Tricia's right on. I often write in the information as side notes when I first start my draft. That way I can see the major elements I need and can gradually put them in as background throughout the story.

What I like to have in the end is very little to nothing of back story in the first chapters. I like those to be forwarding moving.

Melodie said...

Jolene! You live in Wasilla! *hyperventilating* let's meet sometime.

Caroline and Krista: Thanks for stopping by! I'll definitely return the favor. (I love bling - thanks Krista!)

Lee: I love the idea of timelining info - can picture a list of backstory with charts of when to input. Sounds like outlining tho. *shudder* :))

Cally Jackson said...

You've piqued my interest about your WiP. Looking forward to hearing more about it. And I think that definition of luck is spot on. Here's hoping we both get some with our writing in the near future!

(From a fellow new adult campaigner)