Stretching Makes Us Stronger

I have always been something of a wild child. I don’t relish routine. My mind moves fast and my attention span is short. Feed me a diet of the same thing on a regular basis, and I yyyaaaawwwnnnnn…

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not about to jump out of a perfectly good plane, nor will I propel myself off a ledge to zip line through a forest or bungee jump off a bridge. Not my idea of a good time! No, I take my risks in the writing world.

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Take my recently completed set of manuscripts, for example. These two books were complicated, and I made them deliberately so because I wanted to see if I could do it. Two brothers and two sisters, all first responders, and a serial arsonist on the loose. Yes, two love stories, but these are romantic suspense, so I had to build the tension of the external conflict, the fires and whodunit, along with the internal conflicts they each faced as other things heated up. Did I mention the multiple bad guys?

And here’s where things became complicated. In the first book, all four characters share scenes and dialogue. The plot thickens. Things ignite. A reader experiences the story through one brother and one sister’s points of view. We observe the other two, but we don’t know what’s going on in their heads.

Simple enough, given this is the first book. But in the second book, we’re inside the heads of the other two characters. The mystery of the arsonist’s identity is unsolved. More hot stuff, and yes, pun intended. But I had to make sure shared dialogue between characters crossing over the books remained consistent. Ditto how the tension ramps up, and what we now learn about the second pair and their reflections about the first and all of those bad guys.

Yes, I was STRETCHING. My accountability partners, a group of incredible writers to a person, told me two things. One, it was an awesome idea, one they rarely saw done, and two, it was going to be hard and I was crazy. There was probably a reason it was rarely done.

But I did it anyway. STRETCHING. It was hard, and more than once, I thought I was crazy to attempt this and probably should rewrite two standalone books without the intersecting plots. But I am stubborn and a control freak and I WAS NOT going to let myself get away with not trying this.

The first MS clocked in at a respectable 103K words, acceptable since I have things to cut and add and my books in this genre usually end up at about 92-95K. The second one, due to my reflections on all of the interlaced areas plus the need to solve the crime, came in at a whopping 123,347 words. Yes, there will be major cutting involved, but I’m not one to hang on to words that don’t advance the story.

<<fingers stutter>>

I was next going to write that I will never do this again, but before I could, my fingers froze over the keys. Never is a long time. And I like the way the books turned out, granted, still in first drafts and with many edits to come.

While it was hard, it was also FUN. I had to work outside my comfort zone, and I was never bored. There was no ugly sagging middle issue. I still didn’t plot it, and when I sat down to write last 10K on Tuesday, I still wasn’t sure how it was going to end. But my characters are cool. They told me.

My lesson learned: STRETCHING in my craft is rewarding. I’m sure I’ll try more crazy things in the future (without jumping into physical space involved). But I will jump into the creative void, just for the fun of the ride!

What do you do to stretch in your craft of choice? How does it feel, and will you try it again? I’d love to hear your comments!

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