To Plan, or Not to Plan

I know, I know there is a blog post about plotting and pantsing somewhere on this blog (in fact you can find it here). But I am to the terrible middle of my novel, and I have to talk about this again!

Basically, I plotted the entiiiiiire story, in great detail. Down to who was falling in love with who at which time. Subplots, story beats, this beautiful outline had it all!

And then I forgot to look at the plot. And then my characters decided that their ideas were better than mine (glaring at you Terrence). So there I was, blithely writing along without looking at my plot. Just when I decided that I was at the midpoint I went and found my plotline and compared the two.

Cue me banging my head against my desk.

The story has meandered in and around the entire plot, sometimes missing plot points, sometimes finding them, and taking its sweet time to get to, in my plot, the second pinch point or a little bit before the midpoint.

Wut.

All that work, and I am not even at the middle yet?

Which got me thinking, is it even worth the trouble of plotting the entire story if I can’t follow it? Or won’t follow it. This plot has fallen to pieces as the story has meandered along.

There are things that I came across while I was writing that I think are better. Points that make more sense, scenes that I never would have thought up if I hadn’t written it. My story is stronger because I didn’t follow the plot. I hope so anyway.

So what the heck was the point of plotting it all out in the first place? Color coding did not guard against stray plot bunnies, bullet points did not fill in my glaring plot holes. There would be much more peace of mind, then and now, if I hadn’t created a plot that I now have to redo and wiggle around to fit where the story is going.

In this particular instance, I think it would have suited me much better if I had created a basic plot, with basic beats, that was easier to flex and wiggle when I went off the path. Now I wish I had a time machine to go back and tell myself not to bother with it.

All this to say, there is nothing like putting words on a page and figuring out what works with the characters and story the best. I didn’t know what worked for my story until I wrote it. Which I know is unthinkable to some of you. But there you go. I needed to write the story to find the plot for the story. Does it mean there will be lots (and lots and lots) of editing later? Yes, unfortunately. I will have to go track down all those plot bunnies and missing characters and put them back in place. But in the end, my story will be stronger for all that rambling and meandering.

Excessive planning did not work for this story. Perhaps it will for a different story. Maybe I will get better at following my own plot. But while I am dreaming, I would like calorie free chocolate.

Shaina Merrick

The Rebellious Writer: What’s in a Name?

I hate naming my characters. The whole process is a head achy bother. While some authors happily scour baby naming books for that perfect name, I flip through the pages with a scowl. And finding names that mean something in particular? That sounds like torture.

I didn’t used to be this way. A long time ago I slammed random letters together and made up all the names I pleased. In the ensuing years, I have either gotten wiser, or lazier. I haven’t totally decided which. But I never, even in those years, liked searching for a name.

Nowadays, if you listen to all the writers, names are one of the most important things about a character. For some authors, they don’t have the character until they have the name, and for others, it completes the character.

To all that I say phooey. Why name your characters? Ernest Hemingway didn’t in ‘The Old Man and the Sea’. His character had a name, that was used all of once. The rest of the time, he was known as the ‘old man’. And the other character was ‘the boy’. No names, but you knew who they were perfectly.

And have you ever had this conversation? “I really like this one character, he is so nice, and the one time he saved his best friends was epic. What was his name again?”

How many times have you forgotten a characters name, but you did like the character? Probably more times than you can count. What you remember is what he or she did and said.

In my own writing, I don’t name a character until it is absolutely necessary. When I have no other choice but to come up with a name. And then I might.

In all honesty, I wrote an entire novella without one single name. No one had a name, only descriptors. I don’t think any of my characters suffered from a lack of a name, they trotted along just as well without one.

So really, what is the importance of a name? It is not necessary for the character. They can develop just as well without one. And since I don’t really need one, I suppose I don’t need any of those special ones either. The ones that mean a billion things all at once that perfectly match my story. Ain’t happenin’ folks.

Though I suppose they can be helpful for the reader to keep track of who is who. But isn’t that what a descriptor is for?

Okay okay, in all seriousness, we probably shouldn’t drop names altogether. As much as I would like to. I think all our readers would revolt. My current novel would be a wash of pronouns and confusion.

I just wonder if they are truly the big deal some writers make them. They are not strictly necessary to the character or the novel.

Now if finding the perfect name for a character gives you a thrill, then don’t let me stop you! However, if you are anything like me, and naming people and things are a chore, let this blog post be your excuse not to. Or at least, to procrastinate it longer than you already have.

You’re welcome.

Shaina Merrick

Book Review: The Song of the Lark

So, I had an unforeseen problem in taking a month off of blogging. I can’t remember what the heck I am supposed to be writing about today. *goes to scour notebooks* Aaaah. Got it. Well, before we get to our regularly scheduled book review, I have a couple announcements. (only two, don’t roll your eyes)

I have Instagram!! Why am I acting so excited about it?! Basically, a bit ago I was decided with a loud sigh that I should be more active on social media, and ya know, create an author platform. Woohoo. So now you can find me and either block or follow me with the handle @shainamerrickwriter. I have loooots of book pictures and quotes because, that is what I like! So go, laugh at my picture taking skills! (I will eventually figure out how to put the insta button on my blog side bar, eventually…)

Also, I hate quarantine. Not being able to shop for clothes or hang out with my friends sucks. On the other hand, I have more time to read, and to bang my head on my keyboard while I am pretending to write.

On to a book review!

The Song of the Lark (Great Plains Trilogy, #2)

Perhaps Willa Cather’s most autobiographical work, (isn’t ‘perhaps’ a lovely word?) The Song of the Lark charts the story of a young woman’s awakening as an artist against the backdrop of the western landscape. Thea Kronborg, an aspiring singer, struggles to escape from the confines her small Colorado (finally, a book set in Colorado and it isn’t Denver!) town to the world of possibility in the Metropolitan Opera House. In classic Cather style, The Song of the Lark is the beautiful, unforgettable story of American determination and its inextricable connection to the land. (Uuuh, I don’t know about her connection to the land, she cuts her ties pretty well!)

As much as I love all of Willa Cather’s books, this one imprinted itself on my mind and heart much more than all of the other ones.

The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather is the story of an artist. One who struggles to find herself, and where she fits in the grand scheme of things, throughout her entire life.

The book starts when Thea Kronburg is, like, six, and ends when she is thirty something. Yes, it is a very fat book. And yes, it did take me a while to read.

I thought the beginning was slow. Mostly because it seemed to be more about her life, and her family’s life, than it was about who she was as an artist. Though it does lay the important groundwork about her lifelong friends, and how she develops as a musician at first.

Then we hit the middle of the book, and things pick up a bit! Which seems to be the opposite of how most book are written (hello mid book slump).

Some of my favorite characters are in the middle of the book. Including Thea’s piano teacher in Chicago who realizes that her true gift is singing, and her friend turned love interest who introduces her to the finer things in life.

What I found most interesting about the book is her transition from piano to singing. Thea has been trained for most of her childhood to be a pianist. She had the best piano teacher in her little Colorado town, and she gets the bets piano teacher in Chicago, all to help her become a concert pianist. And she is good. Good enough to teach others, good enough that her piano teacher knows that she could have a future in piano.

But she hates it. The farther she gets, the more she dislikes playing. But even so, she forces herself to practice for hours every day. To conquer every challenge thrown at her, to make perfect every song. And she is miserable for every minute of it.

And singing, well, singing is something she has always done, and while she know she is good at it, piano is what she is better at, right?

Wrong.

The first time her piano teacher hears her sing, he knows better. Her true gift, her soul, is in her voice. Piano is something she could be good at, but singing is something she could be great at.

From that moment, off she tumbles into a world of voice. The work is still hard, but it is a different kind of hard. Singing is so much a part of her that the work has become an extension of who she is, and who she wants to become.

How often do we spend hours upon hours chasing a dream, only to realize that we are better at something else? Or how much money do we spend hoping that we will become someone, only to find out that we would rather be someone else?

I would say that the second half of the book reveals how far Thea is willing to go in pursuit of become a great artist. She is willing to give up just about everything, home, family, health, in order to pursue her dream.

She decides that she will become great, or she will be nothing.

Obsessive? Well, some may say so. One may also say determined. She is determined to get what she wants, no matter what gets in her way. Be that happiness or despair.

And does she get what she wants? Well, I can’t give everything away, can I?

Shaina Merrick

The Tales of Lunnoor: One Night

Hello hello! I am back with another tale from the realm of Lunnoor. Not terribly much happens this story. But, well, I guess you will have to read it for yourself.

He turned the helmet over and over in his hands. The one oil lamp in the tent gave everything in the tent a golden glow, just barely keeping out the dark of the night.

Beldon touched the helm to his forehead. Two days of searching with a grumbling Lannie at his side, and this was all they had to show for it. One small bit of proof that Belissa had vanished into the fairy realms. His stout hearted sister, the one who faced every danger with a sword in her hand, coerced away by pixies. He should have been there, his aching heart cried. But he knew better. Someone had to stay to make sense of the chaos his father had left behind him. The elder took on the parents burdens, while the younger went off to war.

Beldon gently put the helmet back on his bedside table. This was all that was left of his family. The once illustrious family of Beldon reduced to a half rusted helmet and one son. And it would end with him. Some glorious battle he would find himself on the front lines, and on that day, he wouldn’t look back. Was else was there to do with a son who had lost everything?

  • * * *

“So what was I supposed to say?” Lannie paced back and forth in front of the kings throne. The lamp light pooled around her feet, she was walking through golden water. “He held the helmet like it was a lifeline, and sorry was not going to be enough!” She grabbed the hair on each side of her head and pulled. “I just stared at him like a loon, and hoped that a faerie didn’t come right at that moment.”

She spun on her heel to face the king, “What would you have done?”

“Some grief is too deep for words,” the king said with a sad smile. An opened letter lay on his lap, momentarily forgotten when his daughter stormed into the room.

Lannie released her hair, but she sighed and nodded. There should have been something she could have done. Hadn’t she seen family after family get the news that there loved one had died in battle? “How was this different?” She muttered and frowned at the king without realizing it.

Again and again she had found the words to say to grieving families. The ones who crowded at the door with smiles to receive a letter, only for their hopes to be killed by a single piece of paper. And then, when faced with one man in the forest, everything left her.

“Did you find the faerie gate?” The king asked. Lannie jolted from her reverie, and in her confusion answered before she thought.

“We did.” She winced and looked down at her toes. The one subject she had been hoping he would not bring up. “Though it doesn’t matter now, tomorrow we will be too far to send scouts, and we can’t spare an expedition.”

The one she and Beldon had been on was only sanctioned because the army needed a rest, and because he petitioned the king every day. Every, single, day. The only person who went to the king more was Lannie. Would that all change now that he had what he wanted?

“So it wasn’t destroyed?” The kings voice was gentle, which made it worse.

“We were close,” Lannie looked down at her dusty boots. “I could hear the whispers. I would bet my sword it was just around the bend in the stream.”

She trailed off. She loved her father, she would do anything for him, say anything for him. She took a deep breath and plunged on. “I drew my sword, ready to destroy the accursed thing. We were so, so close. Except I didn’t dare go alone, and Lord Beldon refused.” Lannie scowled as she pictured his grief stricken face, shaking his head no matter what she said.

“Why did he refuse?”

“He said he wasn’t ready,” Lannie growled. Her anger burned away all her earlier sympathy. “That now was not the time. And he wouldn’t move.”

Despite all her cajoling and convincing, she even yelled, and he stayed rooted to the ground, staring at his sisters helmet.

“Did you command him?”

Lannie squeezed her eyes shut, she didn’t want to see her fathers disapproving face. “I shouldn’t have. I was angry, and afraid that any moment the whispers would take him too.” She took a deep, shuddering breath. “I commanded, and he walked the other way.”

In the space of a moment, her angry words had cost her an ally. As soon as they had left her mouth, the words had tasted of ash, a taste that filled her mouth all the way back to camp. Beldon would never word with her again.

“Royalty is not a right to leadership,” the king began.

“It is an opportunity to serve,” Lannie muttered and slowly cracked open her eyes.

The king was not angry, though his eyes were sad, and that was worse.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I will go apologize.” Though it would nothing but appease her own conscience. Her and Beldon’s alliance was beyond any repair.

“Stay a moment and look over this map with me,” the kings rose from his throne and gestured to the large parchment map on the table. “Where is the faerie portal, do you think? And do the scouts need to be warned?”

  • * * *

Beldon unstrapped his sword and laid it on his cot. Then he paused, staring at it yet not seeing it. Lannie had wished for it to spill faerie blood. She did it every day, marching through the forest as if she could not hear the whispers. Could she not hear the voices that dragged down his geet and made his efforts seem useless?

He could hardly speak because of them in the forest, and she wanted to go farther. Beldon shook himself and began to unbuckle his leg braces. Their alliance was over. She would never consent to work with a man who heard every whisper. Who may someday follow in the footsteps of his father and sister.

Shaina Merrick