Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Thinking it Through

blog31 I was in the beauty parlor, attempting to get beautified (or at least get a trim), when an elderly customer came in and plopped down for her weekly wash and set. “Michelle,” she said to her stylist, “When are you due, honey?”

My own stylist froze. I froze too. Oh, mercy!

Michelle said stiffly to her client, “Whatever do you mean, Mrs. Talmedge?”

“I mean the baby,” bellowed the older lady as she blundered on. “When is your baby due?”

My stylist was now busily brushing my hair and I was pretending not to listen in.

“I’m not having a baby, Mrs. Talmedge. Do I look like I am?”

The lady waved her hands around, finally aware of her error. “Of course not! No! Of course not. Erm—what a pretty dress you have on…”

I wasn’t there long enough to see if Mrs. Talmedge walked out of the salon with a Mohawk.

The whole problem happened when the lady jumped to conclusions and didn’t think things through before she spoke.

Which got me thinking—sometimes I plow ahead when I’m writing and don’t think things through, either.

And I end up in just about as much hot water. Well…except I don’t have to worry about revenge being enacted on my coiffure.

When I don’t think things through while writing:

The character acts out of character. If I’d listened carefully enough, I could have heard my protagonist yelling, “Nooooo! I wouldn’t ever do that!”

My storyline starts sounding a little pat. I haven’t dreamed up any curveballs to throw at the plot. Asking “what if?” helps a lot.

I write myself into plotholes I can see China through. (“Oh wait! No, Judy couldn’t have been Max’s killer! She was already dead by then, herself!”)

Although I’m a big fan of not overthinking the first draft (and I’m not an outliner), if I take special care to notice when these three, bad things are happening, I save myself a lot of grief during revisions.

How much time do you spend thinking it through before you put it on paper?

26 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Elizabeth - Thanks for reminding us all to be careful when we write! I always have my beta readers help me comb through my writing to weed those things out - at least, the ones I haven't caught myself. You're right that overthinking can be a problem. So can not thinking enough...

Christine Hammar said...

Nice one, Elizabeth: "I write myself into plotholes I can see China through."

Gave me a chuckle :D

I tend to overthink and then I get tangled in my own web :). I've found that writing down all twists & turns down on paper (have thick note book) helps a lot. Writing things down also helps in avoiding plotholes (I hope).

Darrell James said...

Good post, Elizabeth- I must confess, I have much the opposite problem. The problem of "over thinking" when I write. I can sometimes spend hours on a single paragraph,and make plot changes a hundred time before the first draft is finished. I guess it's all good, as long as it gets us to "The End".

Thanks for giving me cause to think about it.

dirtywhitecandy said...

I overthink too and tend to make everything too complicated. This means that in the grip of inspiration I can go off on some very unsteady tangents. So I spend quite a lot of time planning my story almost like an equation - I need this element here to create suspense, what can I use to create it? And so on.
Like the story. I am always in grave danger of saying things like that.

Journaling Woman said...

Also, Elizabeth, thanks for the reminder to "think" before we speak. Funny.

I outline and wayyyy over think it. Over thinking every aspect of my existence - is actually a joke among my peers and family.

G.M. Malliet said...

Re potholes: It is easy to forget where you left characters, or to have them sitting down one moment and walking around in a completely different room the next.

When a character starts acting out of character, tho...sometimes that can take you in interesting directions.

Cricket McRae said...

Nice post, Elizabeth. Made me cringe and think all at the same time.

The more books I write, the more I plan things out ahead of time. The outline is too rough to even be called one, and there's still plenty of space for the characters (and me) to play in, but it does help reduce rewrites.

Janel said...

Oh my, just thinking about the salon encounter makes me want to hide. You really have to wonder where people keep their common sense sometimes :)

I usually keep my story ideas rolling around and germinating in my head for awhile. Still, I can come up with some giant, spring in Michigan sized potholes!

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

My writing style is akin to taking a road trip with just a change of underwear, a toothbrush, and no map. Oh, and a cop car with a blaring siren chasing you.

I start with an idea, a beginning and an outcome. My story line fits in one or two paragraphs. No outline. Then I simply hit the ground running.

About half way through the manuscript, I'll stop and go back to fix logistic issues and beef up the plot, add more twists or red herrings. The most structured thing I do is keep a calendar of the time frame in which the story takes place. About 80-100 pages from the end, I go back and go through the manuscript again, fixing potholes and editing, before I turn around and start off for the finish at breakneck speed.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Margot--Those first readers are great, God bless them! All the mistakes they read..I feel sorry for mine. :)

Christine--I'm thinking I need to make myself little bare-boned sketches of the direction of the story and that might save me. Not enough that I'd feel tied down, but enough to keep me out of trouble. :) I like your suggestion.

Darrell--I'm a perfectionist too, but only during revisions. The deadlines have hammered it out of me for the first drafts.

Dirty White Candy--I think overthinking didn't work for me because I got too analytical with it. But does THIS method work for me? Well....sometimes. And then sometimes I have to dig myself out. :)

Teresa--I know lots of people like that and I think it's a GOOD thing! You'll never have a bad moment by assuming someone is pregnant when they're not. :)

Gin--Oh, definitely. Those continuity errors are killer! I'm learning to finish writing for the day at the end of a scene to minimize those.

Cricket--I do little *bitty* outlines of a chapter, scene, page, etc...but not the far-reaching, looking-ahead kind of outlines. I'm wondering now if I can even change and go back to outlining..

Janel--I wanted to hide, too. Ouch! Those potholes hurt when we drive into them!

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Sue Ann--Ha! I LOVE that. Gosh, I feel that way, too...it's a race. Lord knows when I've felt like I had a leisurely amount of time to write a book.

VERY interesting that you stop midway through for an assessment. I don't think I've heard of anyone doing that before. Usually it's a stop-as-you-go all the way through, or it's the write to the end and revise later. It sounds like it really works for you...hmm. May have to look into that.

I like your calendar idea, too, for keeping on track.

Michele Emrath said...

I find thinking it through after can lead to some pretty interesting ideas as well. Write it down, then think it out. Think it out, then write it down. The latter leads to some major procrastination on my part!

The nice thing about writing is we can erase and rewrite (until publication, anyway!). The poor stylist and her customer don't have that option. I have seen this situation happen before as well, and it is AWKWARD!

Michele
SouthernCityMysteries

Carol Kilgore said...

Good reminders here. I need them. Thanks.

Alan Orloff said...

I try to think things through before I begin writing, and I think I've hammered out most things through when I start. But when it gets right (write?) down to it, I have to change a bunch of stuff anyway.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Well, I've never seen China...

But I sometimes play it too safe and don't throw in enough crisis or angst.

That poor woman! Anytime I see a woman who looks pregnant, the first thought that comes to my mind is "Don't say a word - what if she's just FAT?"

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Sometimes I get the “aha – that can’t happen moment" before I actually start writing a scene, but usually I’m at least halfway through it before I realize that what I’m trying to do won’t work for one of the reasons you mentioned.

Ann Elle Altman said...

A lot. I plan a lot. But I need to with my stories... I guess all mystery writers start with an inkling about who the killer is but I have been surprised myself.

ann

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Michele--Don't you wish there was an "undo" button for those times? I'm always really careful not to stick my foot in my mouth THAT bad, but there's still so much I wish I could undo.

Carol--Hope they help. :)

Alan--I always seem to change it up. Even if I think it looks okay the first time around, I usually end up messing with it. It's a compulsion. :)

Diane--That's exactly the way I am! I'd rather not pass on happy congratulations and make myself look bad.

Jane--And that moment is the WORST! I always try to find a quick, easy way out...and frequently there isn't one.

Ann--I always seem to choose my victim before the killer. Frequently I'll write it so that ALL of the suspects could have done it and then decide at the end who the killer is. Very "Mystery of Edwin Droodesque." Is it a good method? I'm not so sure!

Linda Rader said...

I write in order to discover what I think, so I have a lot of false starts. It's only by writing that I learn, or make decisions, about my characters.

As for the hairstylist mistaken for being pregnant. It has happened to me a time or too also considering my weight. I always smile and say "I'm not pregnant but what a lovely thought, thank you." I try to put my well wishing stranger at ease. No one gets embarassed unless you let yourself be.

Lorel Clayton said...

I've seen someone mistakenly congratulate the "expectant mother" where I work. You could hear a pin drop in the silence. Now we all know NEVER to ask if someone's pregnant until there's an official announcement in the company's internal newsletter.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I've also had a couple of folks ask if I were preggers (at least they did when I was young). The first time, I cried. After that, I just smiled and threw out a date several months off.

Julia Buckley said...

Hilarious story, in a depressing way. I have been asked if I'm pregnant WITH REGULARITY since I was about 19 and pretty skinny. It has to do, I suppose, with being rather a size larger on top than I was on the bottom. But I was always amazed at the assumptions people made, and how boldly they went where they should not.

After my second maternity leave, I reluctantly went back to work. I met our brand new principal in the copy room, where I labored over my class preps. She walked in and asked me when I was due.

Things were rather cool between us ever after. :)

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Linda--What a graceful way to answer! I love that. This stylist was more angry than anything else, I think. Wow. She really gritted her teeth!

I'm like you...I sort of create plotlines and characters as I go along.

Lorel--Ohhh....even worse! For me, unless someone has TOLD me they're having a baby, then I'm not saying a word about it. I remember someone asking me when I was due *after* I had my baby...you know how ladies still look a little pregnant afterwards. Sigh. I was fairly hormonal then, too.

Sue Ann--Sounds like a good plan to me! I was just shaking my head over this lady. Usually older ladies down here can get away with bloody murder--whatever they want to say. But this one was a real boo-boo.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Julia--NOT a good start to a professional relationship! Wow. You'd think people would play it safe and not comment on something they're not sure about!

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