Lessons From Lexie #4
First: good news! Lexie has been getting some attention from Wattpad itself, readership is going up, and I am having more fun than ever hanging out with my girl Lexie Baker. So, yay!
In this post, I want to talk about an unexpected pleasure and challenge that has come out of writing a serial story in real time: current events. I’d always said I’d be telling the story in “real time,” but what I’d meant by that initially was how Lexie would be interacting with readers as they connect with her, as well as tweeting and responding to things on Twitter. But when the Supreme Court ruled on gay marriage, any plans I had for the chapter the following week had to be scrapped. It wasn’t enough just to mention that it happened: Lexie’s brother is gay and both Benny and his partner Matt are a big part of The Lexie Project. So, obviously, they all had to take a road trip to San Francisco. I happened to be in San Fran at the time for a conference, so it was pretty kismet.
I had originally planned to have a big, splashy premiere happen in that chapter—Lexie was going to get the real red carpet treatment. And I suppose I could have still done that, but then the ruling would have been an afterthought and I felt the new law—and Benny—deserved more than that. This is why working in real time can dramatically affect the narrative of a multiplatform novel like Lexie. It’s also a very new way of looking at character. One of the unexpected gifts that The Lexie Project has given me has been the opportunities I’ve had for Lexie to engage with things that are going on in the world right now. In the future, I will certainly assign character “homework” like this for creative writing students. It’s a great way to get into your character’s head and heart. How would your character respond to the racial tension and violence in this country on Twitter? What sort of selfies would they take and post on Instagram? What things would they pin?
By incorporating current events into my contemporary narrative, I find I’m able to draw a fuller picture of who my character is on a daily basis, not just on the day that is different (an old axiom—start a story on the day that’s different—encourages writers to start stories during extraordinary times in a character’s life). The setbacks are obvious. First, I could be diverting th story away from the emotional throughline and plot arc. I could end up with a meandering narrative instead of a page turner. I could go off track and lose sight of what this story is really about. I could waste the reader’s time.
I’m now working on chapter fifteen, but it’s really more like chapter twenty-five. My chapters for the story are extra-long since readers have to wait a whole week to read them. It’s at this point that I’ve needed to sit down and plot out the whole novel. I’m still allowing reader comments and current events to shape the story, but in order for it to be a well-told story, I have to put my authorial foot down a little. This is also done in an attempt to avoid having over-dramatic elements in the story just to satisfy readers. I’m still doing the hard work every writer has to do as they craft a story on top of managing the multiple platforms and writing like a mad woman.
I try to keep in mind that I will always have the option to change anything before the book goes into print. Because I won’t be hemmed-in by real time considerations, I could have that premiere I wanted to give Lexie and then have the ruling happen—and I might do that. Or, I might find that circumstance had led me to exactly where my characters and story needed to be. It’s exciting to be swept away by current events and let the world around me inform the story. It’s thrilling to not know where we’re going, but also a little terrifying—like driving down a highway with a blindfold. Rest assured, I’ll be keeping both hands on the wheel.
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