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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Evolution of a Novel

Around the blogosphere, I've seen people discussing the evolution: how their novels came to be and how they went about writing, creating, dreaming, and finally revising and editing. I am not a published author. In fact, my book isn't even completed. But I've reached a huge standpoint -- 50,000  words, making the book a true novel -- and I figure it's a good time as any to write about my evolution.

At the end of July 2011, I was feeling discouraged. I'd had plenty of ideas, all saved into files on my computer, and started to write out the ones I was most interested in. A few friends of mine gave input, saying which ones they felt were the most interesting ideas, and I wrote about 1,000 to 2,000 words of each. But nothing clicked. All the ideas were stupid, too hard, lame, predictable, cliche. I was beyond discouraged. I wrote some short stories just so I could write, but I craved a full length project. Then I came upon the missing girls.

There's been plenty of missing girls over time. Girls have gone missing, been killed, sexually abused, forced to be slaves, held hostage, most commonly by men. 85-90% of the missing people reported to the federal government last year were juveniles. Boys are included, of course. But most often it seems the ones that make the news -- whether they are for the absolute horror of the situation or the strength the girl showed in such issues -- revolve around girls. Natalie Holloway, Jaycee Dugard, etc etc.

(this was the best photograph I could find. most images of missing girls are the ones that the police and other organizations distribute out to the general public. these often are school pictures and work well -- people sometimes recongize the person in the photograph, contact the police, and often times either the person or sadly, their body, is found.)

I got pretty into the facts. I researched facts, looked up cases, and read articles on the girls, whether they were missing, found dead, or found alive and returned to their families. While browsing, I found a picture of a parade held in Jaycee Dugard's honor when she was found. The townspeople of Tahoe marched through town and held pink ballons, waved banners, and there was a brass band that played.

(Fun fact: the MC in Building Houses is named Jaycee. I didn't even realize this for a long time. She isn't based on Jaycee Dugard or any other missing girls.)

I viewed lots and lots of pictures of Tahoe's parade and watched several youtube videos. Search "jaycee dugard parade" and you'll get lots of fantastic hits. Here's one of the videos filmed of the parade
 The video is fantastic, and it's wonderful that Jaycee and her two girls are happily safe home while her offender is imprisoned, but it made me wonder. If I was a kid, how would I react to some girl being found in my town? Would I be excited, embarrassed, shocked, amazed? Probably both. So I started the idea of a girl being found in my main character's town.

The original idea, which I deleted, was called Hometowns. The main character's name was Tabitha and she lived in a small town. The town was called Harmony Springs, a town of 3,000 people in northeastern Massachussetts. Tabitha's town, though small, housed a boarding school that she attended (even though she actually lived in the town) and that her mother taught English at. A missing girl, the core of the story, was found in her town. This version was scratched mostly for its implausability. In order for the story to work, there needed to be some kind of disaster, and I could think of few for Massachussets. I know there are some disasters in Masssachussetts, flooding and such, but it was too hard to think of. Also, why would Tabitha attend a boarding school? She wouldn't really be boarding; she'd simply be living in her own town! Her mother also owned a beauty salon, home-cooked meals at a resturant, and was an English teacher. Implausability button, ding ding ding!

I wrote 5k of Hometowns and scratched it. I loved the idea, though, and knew if I made some changes it would work better. I wrote a few more versions, still in Massachussetts and still involving Tabitha (though the boarding school idea was scratched and her mother simply owned the beauty parlor) but nothing seemed to work. I loved the idea but it wasn't heading in the right direction. I decided to start from scratch.

The title was changed to Building Houses, and the main character's name changed to Jaycee. The town was renamed Deer Valley and the setting changed to the very, very north of Minnesota near the Canadian border. I needed a place with common natural disasters, and with all of the horrible tornadoes in the news last summer, decided that her town would be ravaged by a tornado, which northern Minnesota faces often in the summer. She would have survivors guilt, I decided, and sent her away to an elite boarding school in Maui. Now, in the revamped version, she returns to Deer Valley after spending a year at the boarding school, which her parents send her to so they can rebuild their house and save some money (she gets a scholarship to said school).

In the original drafts, there wasn't much motivation. In the Tabitha version, she had no real reason to be confused and angry about the missing girl. She needed to have a reason to be so upset. In the Jaycee version, I amped up the motivation: Jaycee has a brother, Brandon, who also went missing in the same tornado as the missing girl. She wishes that Brandon had been found instead. Ding, motivation.

The missing girl's story increased. Her name is Lily, and her backstory and motivations (though I cannot reveal them; spoilers) were amped. So was the mystery; now Jaycee and her younger, very immature neighbor/friend must figure out Lily's secrets, why she acts so mysteriously, and determine if she's making everything up, lying, and is a fraud.

Another aspect included rebuilding houses. Jaycee essentially joins a Habitat for Humanity team, though in the story the organization is named Home for the Heart. Rebuilding houses like these:

 She gets herself into trouble and must rebuild homes as punishment, where she gets closer to Lily and starts to suspect her of being a liar. Also not in the original.

The story really has changed. It started as the story of a girl who was just interested in a missing girl and morphed into a story about a girl who is convinced the girl is a fraud and rebuilds houses alongside her. And that new updated version -- it's 50,000 words and not finished. And I'm proud of it. I'm going to attach some promo graphics now, that I made for both the original version and the version saved as "Building Houses 2" on my computer.

I'm really devoted to this story. I'm really proud of it. And I'm sure some parts of this evolution will change in editing and revising, but there you have it.

The Evolution of a Novel for Building Houses so far.

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