Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Kitchen renovations and writing

For the last week and a half my kitchen has been undergoing renovations. First, the room was emptied of years of accumulating gadgets and various appliances and dishes, then the workers came in and tore out cabinets, countertops, the sink and its' plumbing, the brick backsplash I had come to loathe, and the final thing to leave was, at last count, four layers of flooring. 

By the end of the first day, the room looked terrible, reduced to its original framing and subfloor. I did not miss a thing. I marveled at how the walls were constructed and the wiring. All of it reminded me of the home improvement shows I love to watch on HGTV, rooms filled with the promise and potential of what can be with skilled labor, the right supplies, and money. 

But what the framing also reminded me of was some of my novels. My paranormal YA, Everlast, has undergone many changes. Under a different title, the original version's first chapter was the very first thing I read when I joined my critique group years ago. This was when I was thinking of writing for young adults and had just started reading the genre. Books by Stephanie Meyer, Sarah Dessen, Elizabeth Scott, L.J. Smith, and others was just a sampling of YA titles I borrowed from my local library.

My main character in Everlast was simply named Lily. Over time I made sure her first name was Lilith and she preferred to be called Lily. Her opening chapter began at the new house, the night that she and her family moved in. There was a big dinner scene with arguing, things were thrown, tempers flared. Family dinners can be so wonderful, can't they? But the story wasn't working for me. It felt off. What did it need? I wasn't sure so I kept writing and outlining, meanwhile I began learning more. I joined the SCBWI, I went to my first conference, then another, I had a critique. I joined a writers group. What I frequently heard was that I was a good writer but what was my story really about?

Hmm, I realized I had an 'idea' of what it was about but not the complete storyline. I had yet to write a synopsis. Other stories began to take my attention away and I left Lily safely locked away in my documents folder on my laptop. After many hours of learning, reading, thinking and introspection, I decided to revisit her. Again and again I sat down and began her tale. 

The dreaded first chapters weren't working. 

Until I decided to totally toss the first, second and third versions of the ideas I had for her along with the drafts and opened a new document.

That empty white page was a shocker. But it looked like a canvas, full of promise and potential.  By sitting down at my laptop keyboard, I let the right person begin the book. I let Lily talk.

My my my, what a story Lily had to tell! Her beginning was a lot different from mine. Her inciting incident had to be mentioned in Chapter One, as were other things. She needed to prepare for her journey to the new house by saying goodbye to important friends. The focus changed, the characters interacting with her changed, the action changed, even the narration was different. When I had finished with what is still today's first chapter, I understood that in order to write this story I had to brave enough to throw away, to let go of things that weren't important, to push unneeded secondary characters back to their rightful chapters. 

It's all about growth and the changes (cue David Bowie song here).

Once I had 'renovated' my novel, I felt better about it. Things clicked. Pieces popped in. The pacing flowed, the voice was truthful, and everything felt right. Years had passed but time didn't matter because I felt satisfied. As I stand on my new porcelain tile floor and stare at the new maple cabinets, sparkling backsplash and everything else, one thing is certain--my kitchen is complete. And now it's time to go and let Lily help me complete her novel.

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