Most of you know that I my writing career is mostly comprised of writing one hour drama for television. (You can find details at my website dlynnsmith.com) A number of years ago I wrote a spec television pilot called, "Beyond the Veil." When I was thinking about my next novel, it occurred to me that the story of Beyond the Veil would make a great novel. I loved the premise and the main characters. I already had six episodes worked out, so it would be easy to turn this book into a series if I was so lucky as to sell it.
Beyond the Veil is about a young woman, Cassandra (Cassy) Zeh who used to be an investigative reporter, but was discredited for doctoring one of her photos. Around the same time, her adopted mother is found murdered and her father is accused, and convicted of the crime. He is incarcerated in a mental health facility for the criminally insane.
Cassy has a dark history that includes visions, voices and attempted suicide. When she decides to return to her childhood home where all this took place, her cousin Alex Kelly is concerned and decides to stay in the guest room for a while, just to make sure she doesn't have another breakdown. Lord knows enough has come down to cause one.
This is the background at the beginning of the novel. Since Cassy is adopted, you can figure that her mysterious origins will come up and become an important part of who she is to become. But I guess the most important thing you need to know right now is that when Cassy is offered a job at "Beyond the Veil" magazine, she returns to her roots and digs out her old, film camera. When she looks through the view finder, she sees through any glamour or magic that hides supernatural creatures from us humans. Is she really seeing these things, or is she losing it again?
My basic underlying premise is if the gods were once again walking in the world of men, who would they be. Cassy and Alex begin and adventure to find out. This adventure leads Cassy to solve some of the mysteries about who she is and where she came from.
So that's what I'm working on. I'm having a great time. As I said in a previous post, I'm using the pilot I wrote as an outline. I'm not allowing myself to go back and revise at all. This has been the most freeing writing experience I've ever had. I'm having a blast just playing with the stories and the characters, letting them lead me where they will.
Many writers don't like to use outlines. I've talked to people like Charles de Lint and Jane Lindskold and they like to just sit down and work, letting the story essentially write itself. I've had some writers tell me they use a reverse outline, meaning that they outline their novel as they go.
On my three previous novels I've tried various takes on the not outlining thing and I just don't think it works for me. It makes me slow, it makes me not want to sit down and write that day.
All my teleplays and screenplays have been outlined before I wrote them. Heck, for Murder, She Wrote, my writing partner Danna and I had to write a 30 page outline for a 50 page script. All we had to do to the final script was insert dialog!
I'm finding that using a pilot as an outline isn't ideal. The structuring in a script and a novel is completely different. I've had to fully develop my characters whereas in television you leave a lot up to the actors and the director. You don't have any commercial breaks to help you change the momentum of your story.
Still, I'm so enjoying this experience. I know where I'm going. I know what I'm doing. I know my characters and my story. The parts that are missing from the script are filling in naturally as I write my chapters. I've only had one day where writing was like pulling teeth -- one day in 3 weeks, not bad. Especially when I'm turning out four chapters a week.
To hand the structuring problem I'm simply ignoring it for now. I'm not numbering my chapters at this point; I simply name them after what is happening in the chapter. Like "Cassy and Alex Explore the Attic" or "Cassy meets Tiffany Shield". This way I can play with my index cards on my board, just like I do with a script, and trying chapters out in different places. I'll also see what I'm missing, because believe me, there are some things missing. The script reads just fine, but a script does not have the kind of detail and continuity that a novel needs.
So besides having a great time turning out these chapters, I'm learning a tremendous amount about my own writing process. Yes, I need to work from an outline. I don't find outlines constraining because I know that they can change as you write, just like this script is changing as I turn it into a novel. I'm also finding out that writing without going back and revising is a wonderful, freeing experience. And I'm discovering that I am actually a fast writer. I don't know why I questioned this since Danna and I had to turn in a script on "Touched By An Angel" in four days!
Today I've put the novel aside and am finishing a short story I need to turn in to my critique group. I promised myself that if I started another novel, I wouldn't stop writing short stories. So Sundays are my short story writing days.
So I met my goal and am feeling inspired and accomplished! If you'd like to support my efforts, please make a pledge to the Clarion West Write-a-thon. You can do so at http://clarionwest.org/events/writeathon/DLynnSmith. Now here is my promised excerpt from last week's writing.
From "Beyond the Veil"
"My baby things," I said, putting down the camera. "Mom saved them."
I felt the wound in my heart gape open. I took out a soft, pink blanket. Underneath was a smaller box. Alex took it out and opened it.
"Whoa," he said.
He turned the box around to show me a stunning, emerald necklace. It had a silver chain about halfway down that attached on each side to the tail of a snake. The snakes undulated down to the front of the necklace where their heads intertwined so they would nestle in the hollow of a woman's neck. Embraced by the snakes mouths was a glittering emerald.
The moment I touched the necklace a shiver ran through my body. It was as if my cells recognized it's touch. I lifted it from the box and held it up to get a better look.
"There's a note," said Alex. He picked up a piece of beige parchment and unfolded it. "To Whom It May Concern. This is my daughter, Cassandra. I love her with all my heart. But her mother is a danger to her and I must give her up to save her."
Alex looked at me but I couldn't meet his eyes. I was stunned. I'd always been told my parents had died when I was born.
Alex went back to reading. "This necklace is her legacy. One I hope she may never face. Tell her she was her father's greatest joy and that losing her will be his greatest sorrow."
Alex turned the note over. "That's all there is."
I couldn't speak. My mind seemed to have shut down. I stared at the necklace trying to make sense of a world that had been turned all around a couple of times now.
Alex put the note back in the box. I handed him the necklace. Then I picked up my camera, got up and walked downstairs. I didn't how many more surprises I could take.