NaNoWriMo Diaries, Day 15: The 30k Eureka Moment
I’m pretty sure I mentioned in another one of these diaries that somewhere between 20-30k I get my hands around the story. Well, I’m at 29,550, and instead of writing this morning I got out my huge pad of grid paper and started graphing. I don’t know how to describe what this phase is for me. Basically at this point I’ve written enough that I can compare the idea I thought I was going to write with what I’ve actually written and start to try to make them dance together, plus I begin to look at big themes and sketch how they connect so I can start being deliberate with my attempts to lace them further.
I write romance, so the main story is always “Character A and B get together” (and sometimes there’s character C, etc, if it’s a menage/poly book), but you have to have subplots and echo plots or the reader (and the writer) gets bored. Plus if they tie together, the reader will sometimes notice consciously but at least will subliminally feel it and have a sense that the book is more thrilling and meaningful and might be able to hold it more dearly to their heart. For me, I always want to try to write a keeper, a book a reader can have resonate with them in a healing or at least joyful way. I don’t want to write a disposable tissue. I want something that can be reread and rediscovered and explored as many times as a reader wants–or simply experienced as a comfortable staple over and over.
My technique for that is this moment, this 20-30k stop-check where I map. This time I wrote out both characters’ strengths and weaknesses, their fears, and their challenge: “Faced with X, Character A must choose between Y and Z.” Both main characters also have rival love interests, or at least alternate choices/paths, so I listed those.
But this is the third book in the series, which could be the first of several series set in this town, and it’s this series is set in a hospital which has had issues spanning between the three books, plots individual and yet quietly linked. The town and the hospital are both characters too, and their growth arcs are hugely important to this moment because it closes out this series and opens the potential for more. Even if I don’t write more books in this series, it should feel open for the reader’s imagination, making it feel as if these are real people, not simply the characters but the town itself, and they could go visit if they wanted. Which they could do of course, by rereading.
My goal in the map is to not only understand the goals, motivation, and conflict of my characters, but to find connections and echoes between them and make sure the town and hospital are also underscoring those same emotions and struggles. Some things I want to be so blunt the reader notices and thinks, “Hey, that’s just like X” because these are comfortable, easy books, and when a human brain makes connections and sees patterns it feels comforted and happy. Some of them I want to be subtle so the brain is noticing them but the consciousness isn’t. I also want to make sure there’s a sense of “oh no, will it be okay” because my brand is “love against the odds,” and the promise of a Heidi Cullinan book is that shit will get real but then always work out in the end. So this means you can pick up one of my books and read it, know there will be a crisis but it will absolutely get solved, nice and tidy, and also because it’s me, there will be a bit of a fireworks and dance number at the end and you’ll put the book down feeling a bit flushed and satisfied.
I’m aware of all of this at 30k. I’m looking at the book going, “Okay, how are we going to get to that ending? Where’s the oh no moment? Is it enough tension? Does it match the other stuff going on?” This is the third book in the series, so I want it to be not just satisfying in its own right but a finish to the trio, so I look at it in context to the whole as well. All of this explains why I was so crabby as I wrote to this moment as well, but it was worth it to keep going because despite it being mostly messy, I absolutely see the shape now, and there’s a lot of good stuff in there. I also know a lot of things I can insert.
I feel like one of the things that saves my bacon the most is I’ve gotten to the point where I’ll bend on just about every point except the romance, and even there I’ll yield once the rest of the book takes shape and I need to make things work. It’s no different than writing a thesis in college. You have to have an umbrella you’re fitting everything under, a ride you’re trying to give the reader, and you have to continue looking up at it and asking yourself if what your hand fits beneath that or not. At some point you lose your perspective, which is why you need beta readers and editors, but nothing is sacred except that umbrella. “This is a story about X and I’m trying to make the reader feel Y.” Everything becomes easier if you plant that flag instead of, “The pirate has to be from Luxembourg and have six fingers or it won’t work.” You can only say that if it serves the ride you’re trying to give the reader.
Anyway, I’m pleased, because I just went from randomly grabbing scenes and hoping they were ones I get to keep for my daily 1666 to finding surgical strike zones to add important bits or summaries to edit later, or actual new scenes I know are part of the new map. Once NaNoWriMo is over I’ll probably write out a synopsis/outline just to help me run forward to the end, though even that will likely not be entirely correct.
Good day today. Also my daughter’s seventeenth birthday. Thanks for lending me your magic, baby girl.