I created an amateur detective today. In Regency England, she is a young paid companion (or lady-in-waiting) to an elderly Lady who puts up with her gallivanting and sleuthing because it amuses her. (rather like Aunt Josephine Barry was amused by Anne.) The entire situation was kind of playing off the beginning of my Beatrix and Oliver book, except this particular old lady is not as dreary and strict as Beatrix's employer. Poor Beatrix.
I used to read mystery/detective books all the time, starting with the Mandie books and the Accidental Detectives, and branching off from there to Nancy Drew and beyond. But since I grew up, I've never tried to write a mystery. Honestly, I don't think I have the gift for puzzles. All this came from a workshop I attended on Sunday morning. After spending way too much time thinking about what to wear, I headed out in the rain to the St. Albert Library. Alberta Culture Days is putting on some free events, and this mystery writing workshop was one of them.
Janice MacDonald is an entertaining speaker, treating the class of thirty or so as close friends. It felt like a chat rather than a lecture. I knew I would learn a lot, even though I don't ever see myself writing a straight formula-following mystery. So I diligently took notes throughout the class.
But the best and biggest thing Janice said, from my point of view, was a little aside at the end of the class about how she writes. She said, "My first time through a story is my best...It has to be fun", meaning she writes without an outline for the first draft because if she took the time to outline the story, she wouldn't be interested in it any more. She would already know what happens. Oh, I can so relate! I tried once to write an incredibly detailed step-by-step outline using the cleverly-titled Snowflake method. I haven't been able to finish a novel without an outline, so I thought I'd give it a try. I had a great time outlining! The story was fresh and new and I loved it! I planned the story start to finish. And then when it was time to sit down and write it—and it shouldn't have been hard since every single scene was listed for me so I knew where I was going for the first time ever—I couldn't write it.
Ok, so the first chapter went surprisingly well, but I suspect that's because my muse threw in something unplanned that blindsided me and made the stakes higher and the villain worse. Once I got back to writing the scenes I'd planned, I was bored. I know if I make myself sit down to write each scene, I could get through it. But if I am bored writing it, there's no way I'll be able to hold a reader's attention.
So I am going to grab hold of Janice's words and make them my own. It has to be fun! I can't write if it's not fun. Janice mentioned that she creates her outline as she writes the first draft, staying only 40 or so pages ahead of where she is in the writing. She doesn't worry if there are holes in the plot, or if she adds things that need to be brought up earlier in the book. She simply makes a note of it in her outline and moves on. The second draft is the time to fix those things. For so long I've been unable to stop myself from trying to write a brilliant first draft. I need to stop that. To give myself permission to write crap. To make it fun again.
At the workshop, I also had the pleasure of meeting two other writers. Billie Milholland, whose blue hair I recognised from her recent book signing, and Deepti Babu, who is also a freelance editor like me, as well as a scientist (not at all like me!). That's one of the best things about workshops, classes, and conferences. A writer, by nature a loner (just like a reluctant amateur detective), can temporarily bask in community, and talk animatedly about writing in a way that loved ones just can't handle more than once in a while.