Changing horses in the middle of the stream – or, changing projects in the middle of Nano

So, I’m doing something which is probably very stupid, but I’m also hoping to learn more about myself as a writer in the process. I mentioned a couple of posts back that A Wasted Land has been coming along more slowly than I had hoped. Mostly this has to do with me needing to do more research and related brainstorming. I thought I had the plot pretty much mapped out, I had a synopsis and the first chapter with me at the last Villa Diodati workshop and I got some good feedback on it — but I also had a bunch of big, gaping holes: the progress of the battles in this novel, the secondary characters (who are still like ciphers), the settings I haven’t used in previous books. I was doing more research than writing, getting no more than 600-700 words done a day.

So I stopped. Not completely, of course. I’m still adding notes to my Scrivener file and reading some new (to me) books on the Dark Ages. Right now it’s The English Settlements: English Political and Social Life from the Collapse of Roman Rule to the Emergence of Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms:

I’ve often wondered if I could write faster if I didn’t (almost) always write such research-intensive stuff. So couple of days ago, I started to think about the kinds of plots I enjoy that aren’t fantasy, historical, or science fiction, something I could set in the here and now, in places that I know fairly well and won’t have to be researching two hours for every hour I write. I hit upon escape plots where the protagonist is running from a mysterious threat. Think The Fugitive, Terminator, that kind of thing. I figured I could set the story in the Pacific Northwest where I grew up. But if my protagonist is running, she could start out someplace else that I know pretty well, the Raleigh/Durham area where I spent a lot of time over the years for IBM.

And I started writing. I don’t have a title yet, nor do I know what the mystery is going to be, but I do have over 6,000 words already. Even though I didn’t do any pre-writing, I’m now at about 1200 words a day on my unnamed thriller. Those still aren’t Nano levels, of course, and I know I’m not going to “win” this thing, but it’s turning out to be a lot of fun writing something where I don’t have to do as much prep. And I’m not trying to imply that this genre is any easier to write than historical fantasy, it all seems to come down to the time factor. I’ve had to look up a few things, of course — what are the most popular cars in the US, where are the superstores in the Triangle and are they open 24 hours, how to get more money than your limit from an ATM — but it isn’t every little detail. And I can find the answers to my questions a lot faster. Besides, for the settings I can rely at least in part on memory. Those are huge time savers.

So if I can come up with a decent mystery for this thing and finish it, I may be in the market for a genre pseudonym. 🙂

For the above reasons, you’re getting something completely different from me this week for WIPpet Wednesday, from my unnamed fugitive novel. WIPpet Wednesday is the brain child of K. L. Schwengel. If you’d like to participate, post an excerpt from your WIP on your blog, something that relates to the date in some way. Then add your link here — where you can also read the other excerpts. 🙂 My math this week goes like this: 11+2+0 (11/20) = 13. So I’m giving you thirteen short paragraphs from the first scene I wrote a couple of days ago:

Then she heard Rick bellow at the top of his lungs, “Help! I’m –”
And silence.
No! Amber felt as if all the air had been pressed out of her body. She rose again slowly, gazing sideways into the room for confirmation of what she was afraid to see. Rick, slumped forward on the chair, arms limp at his sides, blood pooling on the floor beneath him.
“Do you think anyone heard him?” one of them said.
There was a brief silence and footsteps, going and coming. “No changes in the lights on the houses nearby.”
“Good,” Griffith said. “When the wife gets back, we’ll make it look like a murder-suicide. The police won’t ask too many questions — we have that covered. Then the secret will be safe.”
Amber knew that if she sobbed her pain it would be her death sentence. It was an act of will the likes of which had never before been required of her. But even as she fought with her grief, an important detail had not escaped her — she couldn’t go to the police.
But what was the secret these people thought was important enough to kill for? What could she possibly know that was worth that? She was only a high school drama teacher, after all.
And on the other side of the wall, Rick was slumped dead in their dining room. For what?
For a moment, Amber considered stepping in front of the window, making herself known, allowing them to murder her and lay her beside her husband. What did anything matter, now? And if they had someone from the police on their side, what chance did she have anyway?
Then anger came to her aid, a wave of it so strong, she was sorely tempted to storm through the door with her wimpy hammer and the element of surprise and take at least one of them out. She knew what the odds of that were — very nearly zero.
On the other hand, what were the odds of her ever avenging her husband’s death? With Griffith having the police in their pocket, and her not even knowing what it was they had killed him for? Also very nearly zero.
But better than if she too were dead.

Very rough first draft, any and all comments welcome. Especially if you have any cool ideas what kind information or cover-up or whatever could be going on here. I have NO experience writing mysteries! 🙂

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20 thoughts on “Changing horses in the middle of the stream – or, changing projects in the middle of Nano”

  1. Definitely a strong sense of despair here… Thing is, would Rick be dead that fast after bellowing? Wouldn’t he be twitching or something? (Not a strong sense of the actual way he died, I guess).

    I take it Amber somewhat knows these guys? She seems to recognize the one called Griffith. What is her reaction to him then? How did she know him?

    As for changing horses… Yeah, sometimes the one you’re riding just seems to want to spend a lot more time grazing.

    1. Yeah, I admit, for that reason jumping around between projects used to be my modus operendi, until I became convinced that it wasn’t an effective way to work. But maybe it is for some people? 🙂

      1. I’ve seen very successful people who need to have more than one project in the fire at a time. And I’ve seen people who can’t do anything without following it step by step through from beginning to end without any distractions.

        You find what style works best for you. In the end, only you can best judge how the experience can be used in your career.

  2. Wow! Quite different from the Arthurian fantasies! 🙂 Hmmm . . . I’m a terrible one at mysteries so no input on that. For a very rough first draft I see very little wrong with it. Flows good, reads well, builds tension . . .

  3. Hmm … I think Ruth if a pretty good name for a mystery writer … perhaps something alliterative? Rackley, Reed, Rybolt, etc … do you have a middle name?

    Changing horses isn’t agin NaNo … the only rule is the 50,000 one.

      1. That’s what I’m doing … albeit on the same project. (almost) I have character notes, backstory notes, definitions, scenes for other books in the series, as well as the MS itself … it took me a few days of struggling to stay focused just on the MS to realise I write on all of these fronts as the MS moves forward … was a nice little epiphany 😀

  4. Oh this is awesome. I love that you are braving a new genre… I think change can really kick us up the bootie, so go with it. Enjoy the sparks! 🙂 See where it takes you. I definitely felt the tension in this scene, so you’re working the genre well. And only a first draft sample too? Go you! 😀 PS: Winning NaNo is more about getting more done than you normally would (IMO), and you’ve made huge strides if this has given you this kind of inspiration. X

  5. This is yum….and my opinion has nothing to do with the fact that I was once heavily involved with a Rick who treated me poorly….honest!

    What if Amber and Rick are targets because Griffith thinks they know something they don’t? Or only Rick knew it, but they thought he told Amber (but he didn’t; my husband forgets to tell me fairly important things regularly!)? Or if she or they witnessed something they weren’t meant to see, but Amber doesn’t realize that it had any meaning? Or, maybe her high school is the front for some clandestine activities (the unschooling parent in me!). Or maybe Rick isn’t really dead….? Did he stage it, to get out of the marriage? Was he wounded but they assumed him dead?

    Mysteries aren’t my thing, either, although I will read them if they catch my fancy. You get the benefit of my up-all-night brainstorming (A dubious benefit!).

    As regards NaNo – I see these challenges as tools for my own use, games I play with myself. I also set the microwave timer to clean house; I like games. I see no problem with changing things – you sound excited, happy, and maybe a tiny bit scared – all good for writing the grabs the reader. And you’ve learned some things about yourself, which is always good!

    The Oregon boy I married and I have a standing date to watch “The Fugitive” every Sunday at midnight, when it airs on the local retro network. I’ll be thinking of you tomorrow night!

    1. Some great brainstorming ideas there, Shan! Thanks so much for tossing them my way. 🙂 And you’re right, game are great for getting us going. I have to remember that — and use it. *g*

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