Writing Unfortunate Son
Writing my first novel, Sand & Water, took me about two months start to finish (not counting edits/revisions). It was my 2010 National Novel Writing Month project, and I wrote 63,000 words that November, the rest in December.
In some ways, Unfortunate Son went through a similar process. I wrote about two thirds of the book in three months, January through March of 2014. But I started writing in June of 2012. Working in between other projects, I managed only about 20,000 words over a year and a half before I kicked into overdrive.
What made the difference? Perseverance, trial and error, and The Hero’s Journey.
In the fall of 2013, I’d been working on Unfortunate Son for over a year in fits and starts (mostly fits). I’d written several novellas and short stories in the meantime, and I had another novel I’d been working on as well. At the time, I was measuring myself by word counts—how many words did I write today? This week? This month?—but I was starting to figure out that wasn’t the way to go.
Then I attended the Georgia Romance Writers’ annual Moonlight & Magnolias conference and sat in on a lecture by Deb Dixon (author of the excellent Goals, Motivation, and Conflict) about The Hero’s Journey. Now, this is a subject that’s familiar to most people who’ve taken any kind of literature class. Volumes have been written about how this structure applies to all sorts of stories.
But as Deb spoke, something snapped into place for me. I flipped my notebook to a fresh page and started scribbling notes. For some reason, this familiar story structure was exactly what I needed to organize the mishmash of ideas I had on the page and the ones still in my head. I knew the story. I knew what needed to be written. But getting those elements organized and written had eluded me.
What I ended up with was a list of 29 “scenes,” or story points, that would form the basis for the final novel. Not everything on that list made it into the book—for starters, I dumped a prologue that didn’t add anything to the mix—and quite a few things ended up in the story that weren’t included on that list. But following the progress of those notes helped me clarify what really mattered and get the story written.
I laughed a little as I worked on this post, because, when it comes to writing strengths, Grace and I are polar opposites. For me, it’s a struggle to get to the 60,000 words necessary for a full novel. Grace is nearly always at the opposite end of things, trying to keep her books at twice that length. And yet here we both are, writing and publishing books one after another. What works for me might not work for her, and vice versa, but we’re both getting things done.
I think that’s a critical thing for authors to remember. There’s no one path to publication. Every author is different, and for that matter, every book is different. Following The Hero’s Journey worked for Unfortunate Son, but that doesn’t mean it’ll work for every book I write.
In nearly any endeavor, having a plan and a process is great, but I think it’s just as important to stay flexible, because change is inevitable. What works today won’t always work forever. And no matter how you work as an author—plotter or pantser, long or short stories, fast or slow drafts—the most important thing to remember is that it’s not about the process. It’s about the story.
Or, as Grace would put it: write the story that needs to be written. 🙂
Five years ago, Evan Day lost his lover in the Afghan sand, and in the fallout, he lost his military career and his family. With help from friends, he reinvented himself as porn star Trevor Hardball, but his scars are hidden, not healed. When Riley Yeats falls into Evan’s lap in a bar, he awakens a part of Evan he’d thought was dead and gone. Evan’s fascinated by the blond and twinky Riley, even though he’s the opposite of Evan’s usual type.
Then Evan’s family reappears his life, and Evan soon learns Riley has his own family-inflicted wounds—ones that make it hard for him to be there for Evan. A disastrous confrontation between Evan and his parents leaves Evan’s mother injured and Evan overcome by anger and fear. Losing his tenuous hold on his emotional control, Evan makes one bad decision after another, but maybe his final fall will be the wake-up call Evan needs to set things right—with his parents, and with Riley.
Dreamspinner Press: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=5929
All Romance eBooks: https://www.allromanceebooks.com/product-unfortunateson-1718254-149.html
Shae Connor lives in Atlanta, where she’s a lackadaisical government worker for a living and writes sweet-hot romance under the cover of night. She’s been making things up for as long as she can remember, but it took her a long time to figure out that maybe she should try writing them down. She’s conned several companies into publishing her work and adds a new notch on her bedpost each time another story is unleashed onto an unsuspecting universe.
A member of the Romance Writers of America and the Rainbow Writers chapter, Shae was first published in 2010 and has a lineup of short stories, novellas, and novels available from Dreamspinner Press, Wilde City Press, MLR Press, and Amber Allure.
Shae is part Jersey, part Irish, and all Southern, which explains why she never shuts up. When she’s not chained to her laptop, she enjoys cooking, traveling, watching baseball, and reading voraciously, and she’s an annual volunteer for the Dragon Con on-site publication, the Daily Dragon. You can find her hanging out on Twitter most any time @shaeconnor, but for the more direct route, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website at shaeconnorwrites.com.