I could have made this a CMG (Concept Meets Girl). I’ve had it planned for a loooong time as just that. But that would be such a disservice.
Because this story (this post is like a TBT story post and CMG mash-up) changed the way I wrote. Or rather the content/quality. It made me see writing in a new way. It was probably the story that made me the most uncomfortable as I wrote it, but with tremendous results. Because this story was a game changer for me.
It all started (almost 3 years ago now) with the title. <- And that right there should have been a bad news bears sign for me. Because I always start with the plot, always without fail. Bad guy, good guy, this talisman, big war, super secret mission, etc. Then comes the characters. Title is the very last thing, like as in it usually waits until the draft is complete and I go “Shoot, I need to name this story. Um… Daring Ventures, there we go”. (<- an actual title… don’t ask)
I don’t know what made this particular title pop into my head. I never ever ever ever work with giants ever. And to me Miranda was always a slightly stodgy and not-my-style name. So when “Miranda’s Giants” popped into my head, commanding me to tell this story, I surprised myself when I sighed and complied.
Now, I have an odd habit. When I get the idea for a story, (though I consider myself an “outline person”, meaning I like to outline my stories) I don’t outline it down to a gnat’s eyebrow. I strictly outline the first act, roughly sketch the second act, and practically don’t touch the third act. Because anything that I initially plan for the third act will be utterly unhelpful and irrelevant when I actually get there. But I always start off with something in the way of direction.
In this story, I had the title. I assumed Miranda was the lead and the giants would be the antagonists because, well, giants. (note: the giants are indeed the antagonists) But beyond that I had no idea where I was going with the story. I knew what Miranda’s personality was like, because when you say “Miranda” I get a picture in my head of a “steady-headed, plucky girl” who is
slightly feisty and spirited. So I started with that and let the story wander on its course.
I was growing increasingly dissatisfied and was about to jump in and take control, putting plot, any plot, in. Miranda was flat and colorless, and for some reason the story had decided I needed goblins in it too (which I never work with, either). Literally I was saying to myself “This is awful. When I’m done writing today, I’m going to figure out a direction for this story”. And then, in good old fashioned Raymond Chandler style, the story goes “let’s bring in a guy with a gun”… or rather a sword.
All of a sudden, I wanted to know who the swordsman was, and why he was doing what he was doing. Thankfully, my curiosity was to be appeased, because he came back. I sat back and gave up the idea of steering the story. I let the story take me for a ride.
What resulted was a very basic and predictable plot. But it was the Story that mattered.
I’d like to take a second to explain what I mean by the difference in plot and Story. To me, plot is more of the series of events that happen, mainly the action parts, like “man kidnaps Billy, Billy escapes, Billy gets on the wrong bus to get home and ends up in San Francisco instead of New York City, Billy has no more money to get home so gets a job as newspaper boy, kidnapper tracks him down, chase scene over the Golden Gate bridge, etc.”… You get it. Story is the characters’ lives that intertwines with the plot. Story is about who they are and how they tick and their pain and joy and love and loss. Story is about a person. Plot is about the things that happen to them.
The swordsman, who I originally expected/thought/assumed was like a slightly nefarious rogue type guy (who would simply serve as a bridge character to get Miranda from step one to step two and then drop out of the story), suddenly became pretty much the most intriguing character in the story. And he simply wouldn’t leave. I discovered he didn’t have quite the dark past I’d expected, and then I was hit with the kicker: he wasn’t just any man, he was Miranda’s uncle.
Now, I have resisted the whole long-lost-relatives-you-didn’t-know-about idea for a very long time. But Shade taught me a valuable lesson: just because something is done a lot and seems clichéd doesn’t mean I can’t do it, and just because it’s been done poorly before doesn’t mean it’ll be cheesy every time.
And this story, which I thought was going to be about a strong independent lead saving the world, became a heart-deep exploration of the relationship between Miranda and Shade. This story was hands down the most stretching story I ever wrote. A dozen times I thought “oh my gosh! This is horrible! I’m going to have to cut, like, that whole chapter!” and “what am I even doing? I don’t know what I’m talking about!”. Anyone who knows me well can tell you that I am not… well, I hesitate to say this but don’t know how else to, an emotional person. I’m not as deeply affected on an emotional level as others (most of the time). And I’m also not really in tune with what feelings really are (<- as in, really like not at all… sad, I know). So I didn’t know how to write a character’s feelings. Which was why this story was so revolutionizing. Because it was all an exploration of feelings. I mean, how do you respond when someone drops the “your mother was my sister” bomb? And how do you tell him that she’s dead? Especially when you secretly blame yourself for her death? #allthefeelings (aka #nocluewhattheheckimdoingbutdoingitanyway or #idiotatworkdonotdisturb)
When I finished Miranda’s Giants, I didn’t feel like I’d been tainted for life (just kidding, Libbie 😛 ). I felt like I’d just come from the worst form of self-torture ever, and I honestly did say to myself “NEVER AGAIN!”. But then something strange happened…
Once I’d been down there and explored the heart level, it affected my other stories too (to varying degrees). Lessons I had unconsciously learned began to play out in other stories, and having been stretched so far once before, it was easier to return there (and less uncomfortable). My writing is ten times better and more colorful and vivid and lifelike than it was before (and if you read anything of mine post Miranda’s Giants, you’ll be scared by that statement). And I have to ask you something, because loads of guilt and embarrassment here:
Do you read your own stories/get a sort of craving for a story you wrote?
I rationalize it to myself, saying that I wrote it, so it’s not surprising that I’d write the sort of things I’d want to read. But back in Secrets of the Lost Kingdom days, I n.e.v.e.r. just “felt like” reading my stories (not surprisingly). Buuut… I may or may not have reread Miranda’s Giants 3 times. I also may have reread Sea Wolves… but I’m not telling.
Okay, super embarrassed now, but oh well. Crossing my fingers that I’m not alone here. :S
Note: I plan to post Miranda’s Giants on here at some point, once I finish Ancient Fire and The Dragon Pendant, but first I have to fix a major issue.
And by major, I really mean MAJOR. If you’ve ever goofed on a plot point, feel good now, because I made this egregious oversight:
20 years before the story takes place, Shade met Miranda’s father (who eventually married his sister). They went back to this world, and shortly thereafter the portal between the two worlds was sealed.
At the end of the story, you find out that, though to Miranda she’s been gone for a whole week, for the rest of her family it’s only the next morning.
I proceed to explain that there is a time difference between the worlds. 1 day in the other world = about 1 hour in our world.
Which would make Shade 500 years old when the story takes place.
But even for the other world, it’s been 20 years (just like in our world).
How’s this workin’, people???
So, I’ve got to do something there. But the implications of this simple oversight ripple into the entire last, like, 1/3 of the story… sooooo, yes.
After taking up so much of your time, I’d better let you get back to whatever you’d rather be doing than wasting your time here. 😉
Happy Thursday, everybody!
What was your biggest plotting oversight? What story was a game changer for you?