Let's start with a multiple choice question. How would you complete this comparison:
Pottery is to clay as books are to _______.
d) all of the above
In ancient times, the hard work of digging up clay to make pottery was often considered slave labor. Potters throughout the centuries, and even today, still dig to find the perfect clay. It is messy, hard work.
|Men Digging Clay for Pottery Making, Pamunkey Reservation, King William County, Virginia|
Over the last few years, I haven't been a slave--but digging out the clay of my story, inspecting it, throwing some out, and digging deeper for more--has definitely been labor.
Years ago when I first dreamed up Half-Truths, I knew it would be about a white girl and a light-skinned black girl in Charlotte in 1960 who discovered they were second cousins. But, I didn't know much else.
I spent months researching the time period and the place and found many interesting, historic facts. All of which I wanted to include.
For example, I was thrilled when I found this article about the National Guard Engineers who left for Korea from Charlotte in 1950. I spent a lot of time digging around for information about Kate's father and how he could have been an engineer in Korea, where he went to school and how the family ended up in Charlotte.
It took me a long time to figure out that Kate's story didn't start with her father leaving for the Korean conflict--even though that was the inciting event that brings her to Myers Park where she meets Lillie. Clay got discarded. Draft #1 was written totally from Kate's POV and completed in December, 2010.
At the SCBWI-Carolinas conference in 2011 I met Mary Cate Castellani who recommended writing the book from both Kate and Lillie's perspectives. New clay had to be dug for the second draft.
Once again, I got interested (some might say side-tracked) into interesting historic details. Wanting to show the inequality of the Jim Crow era and hearing that every good novel should have a romance and a death, I decided Lillie's brother would die as a result of a racial incident and unequal treatment at the "Coloreds Only" hospital, Good Samaritan.
I had placed a scene when the girls discover a piece of china belonging to both families at the end of the book.
At a plot workshop last fall, Rebecca Petruck, my writing coach, pointed out that the beautifully researched and tearfully written scenes about Lillie's brother's death were tangential to the story. And the china teacup scene belonged in the middle of the book where it would provoke a crisis between the girls. I needed to focus more on Kate and Lillie's story.
I needed to dig more clay.
Five-time New York Times bestselling author Wally Lamb referred to this stage in a recent Writer's Digest interview. He was asked, "At what point do you usually know your ending?" and answered,
"Usually, just before the ending. And I'm talking about first draft. Of course, after you get the whole lump of clay, then you being to shape it and mold it and cut away stuff and everything. But, first draft--what happens is that I find characters that I both love and worry about. And then I have to keep writing to see if they're going to be OK or not. And there's no guarantee in my process that they are going to be OK. So that's my motivation. It's certainly more motivation than finishing a book so that I can get a royalty check. (Writer's Digest, "Wally Lam: The Weight of Words" by Suzy Spencer. March/April 2014)
Lamb uses his clay-making time to find out who his characters are and what trouble they're going to get into. Some authors call this a discovery draft. A time of finding out what their story is.
Since last October when I took a plot workshop with Rebecca, I wrote just to get the story out. For example, I didn't obsess over the type of material in the dress Kate wears to the charity ball. I realized there was a good chance the scene would be cut or changed. The third draft was full of questions, comments, and phrases highlighted in yellow.
Here is a sample of two paragraphs from Chapter 19 from Kate's POV:
She gives a funny laugh. “What can you do? You’ve got everything you want/the world at your fingertips. You got grandparents who are so rich that all you got to do is point to a picture of a dress in a catalog and they’ll have it ordered by the next day. (HOW TO SAY THAT WHAT SHE WANTS ARE THE OPPORTUNITIES/POSSIBLITIES THAT L. HAS.)
I pull my hand back as if a hornet just stung me. It must have shown on my face because she says, “I shouldn’t have said that, Miss Anna Katherine. I’m sorry. I guess there’s something about this place,” she waves her hand to take in the gardens and pathways[describe better], “that just makes me feel like I can say whatever I want to say. It just feels…” her voice trails off.
When I sent the draft to Rebecca a month ago, it was rough but it was done. Linda Phillips and other writer friends told me to celebrate the completion of this draft. Everyone said I'd reached a milestone. But I wasn't ready to celebrate. Not until I received Rebecca's affirmation, "Yes, now I think you have the clay," was I ready to celebrate.
I have five pages of notes to work through, serious thinking about deepening my characters and Kate's plot line to strengthen--but I'm thrilled. My hands are itching to get dirty-I can't wait to prod, tweak, sculpt, and shape it.
|I once heard to put each draft of your book into a notebook.|
It makes it feel real!
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