≡ Menu

What Are You Doing to “Reach a Little Higher” as a Writer?

Often, throughout the writing of  The Telling, I returned to Stephen King’s words. In the intro to The Shining, King said this:

I think that in every writer’s career — usually early in it — there comes a “crossroads novel,” where the writer is presented with a choice: either do what you have done before, or try to reach a little higher. What you realize only in retrospect is how important that choice is.

The Shining was King’s “crossroads novel,” and he goes on to explain how he chose to “try to reach a little higher.” In his case, it meant taking a risk with one of his leads and, rather than simply just show the man becoming possessed, probing the psychology that turned this character into a psychopath. Not only did it take more work, it was risky.

Likewise, I wanted to reach “a little higher” with my second novel. But doing so was not without risk. Whether or not I succeeded, only time will tell. Nevertheless, here’s eight ways I attempted to “reach a little higher” in my second novel:

  • More POV’s — In The Resurrection, I intentionally limited my POVs to two — a man and woman. I felt that would prepare me to handle more in the future. In The Telling, I doubled that number and have 4 POV characters. Even more fun, one of those characters is quite nuts!
  • More expansive plot — Perhaps this comes with more POV characters, managing more motivations and backstory. But the big limb I go out on is the one that involves mass delusions, governmental coverups, and a storyline that stretches back to Mesolithic cave paintings and the Cold War.
  • Monsters — What writer doesn’t want to make a monster? Well, the crow on the cover is a hint about mine. Actually, monster might not be the appropriate word. Either way, I wanted to combine several mythologies, and make a few of my own. One such mythology involves the “fetch.” The Irish and the Scots have legends about the Faerie Co-Walker, the Otherself, known throughout the years as Doubles, Wraiths, or Fetches. My monsters involve similar mythology. (Of great help was Reverand Robert Kirk’s The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies.)
  • More surprises — It’s said, if you ever want to ratchet up the tension in your book, kill someone. Well, I reached a point in this novel where I knew I must kill a certain character. I liked this character very much. At first, I resisted the thought and tried to navigate the story around it, before realizing I had to do it. I’m guessing it will surprise, if not anger some readers.
  • Faster paced — Frankly, The Resurrection is a bit measured and cerebral in its approach. Well, I intentionally tried to speed up The Telling, putting my characters at real risk a lot sooner.
  • Darker — I open The Telling with a quote from Lovecraft’s The Dunwhich Horror, so that should tell you something. Yeah, this is a horror novel. But don’t let that scare you off, because it also has…
  • Romance —  Okay, this was risky for me. Even more risky than monsters! Probably because I’ve talked so much mess about contemporary romance novels. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed crafting this specific relationship. It seemed… natural. Sure, it’s baby steps for me. Real Romance buffs will probably yawn at my fledgling attempts. But I wanted to “reach a little higher.” Besides, Horror and Romance are always a great combo!
  • A map! — There’s a map at the front of my novel. Woot! No, it’s not quite as intricate as a Game of Thrones map. But now Tolkien and I share something in common.

So those are a few intentional risks I took with my second novel. Let me know whether or not you think they work.

So what are some things you are doing to “reach a little higher” in your Work in Progress?

Email this to someoneShare on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on Reddit
{ 15 comments… add one }
  • Kevin Lucia May 17, 2012, 8:47 AM

    Three things:

    1. Outlining things first. Believe it or not, this has been hard, because I DON’T WANT TO DO IT. All my favorite writers don’t seem to outline at all (or, at least they say they don’t). But with this Billy the Kid thing, outlining has been HUGE. I’ve been able to write straight through, w/o having a moment’s pause.

    2. Short stories. Right now, I say I write “okay” short stories. I’m not happy with that, though. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to write GREAT short stories, but I want to try. And part of the problem is I don’t intentionally LABOR over short stories. I see a submissions call for a themed anthology, I write a story…….and that’s it. This summer, I really want to work at writing short stories, simply because. Not because there’s a submission call.

    3. Writing terser in the first draft. My first drafts are verbose, Bradbury=esque nightmares. I end up cutting a lot out. If I could cut a lot out as I head to the page for the first time, I think I’ll be able to write a lot faster…

    • Scathe meic Beorh May 17, 2012, 1:22 PM

      Yes, Kevin, I have found that submission calls make me produce my worst work. I began seriously writing short stories back in 2000, just because. It’s a truly rewarding genre. Ray Bradbury recently requested my collection Always After Thieves Watch.

  • Nissa Annakindt May 17, 2012, 9:42 AM

    I also am outlining on my current project, which is more complex and has more characters than my previous attempted novels. I’ve figured out a way to use the snowflaking system in a way compatible with the weird way my brain works (I have Asperger Syndrome), mainly by things like doing step 4 and THEN turning to step 2, and writing bits from scenes (step 10) all along.

  • Ike L. Obidike May 17, 2012, 9:56 AM

    I learnt a lot writing my first book, Shifting Sands and I’m poised to used all those in my second which I am starting tomorrow.

    All along, I’ve been plotting, which I didn’t start with in SS but which I realized was important so that I write faster once started.

    I decided from the start to have the drama evenly spread until it climaxes at the end. SS didn’t have much drama until everything climaxed at the end. It would be a way to keep the interest of the readers until they get to the end.

    I used to dread writing dialogues and didn’t have much of it in SS but I have invested time studying it. James Patterson is an expert while Dan Brown captures the movements during dialogues better.

    I also have a more expansive plot.

  • Steve Rzasa May 17, 2012, 1:19 PM

    I finished a book and I’m halfway through its sequel — both are outside my comfort zone. Most of my work has been scifi. These new projects are more alternate history/fantasy, with a focus on just a few character points of view (usually I tend toward lots of POV).

  • Scathe meic Beorh May 17, 2012, 1:20 PM

    I am trying to switch out of Fantasy and into more realism, or Realistic Horror. A difficult change of thought process. I have always found, though, that scaring myself as a writer has always provided rich harvest.

  • John Robinson May 17, 2012, 6:22 PM

    Most of my writing has been single POV, 1st person thrillers–my Joe Box novels, and now my Cameron Bane series. But a couple years I came up with the idea of taking the core theme of Poul Anderson’s classic SF novel Brainstorm, and guiding it in a new direction … thus The Radiance was born.

    It was my first novel featuring not one, but four main characters, each with his/her own mindset, worldview, and desire for gain/fear of loss. To that I added some truly unique (in my humble opinion) secondary players, a burgeoning love story, two converging plotlines, and a ticking clock.

    Then I kicked the whole thing into hyperdrive.

    The result was big, exhausting, and a ton of fun to write. Even at that, I have enough unused material to contemplate a sequel, should the madness ever seize me again!

  • sally apokedak May 18, 2012, 9:28 AM

    I like hearing about how you stretched. I think we need to keep stretching to keep the writing interesting to us and to our readers.

    Right now, I’m not really stretching. I’m rewriting a story that didn’t work the first time around. And it doesn’t feel as complicated as my last manuscript was (though probably anyone reading the last one wouldn’t think it was complicated, it was way bigger than anything I’d done before) but it feels like I’m taking all the tools I’ve gained so far and choosing which ones are needed for this book, so it still feels like good work.

  • Jill May 18, 2012, 10:21 AM

    Currently, the most challenging writing I’m doing is on my blog. I’m editing a book with a sort of v shape to the plot, but right now, I’m doing surface edits, and I haven’t delved deeply enough to challenge myself with it. But my blog is killing me because it’s teaching me (or I’m teaching myself) to write on the spot stories and short memoirs. I’m not always up to it.

    I’m looking forward to The Telling–can’t wait!

  • Joel Q May 18, 2012, 11:45 AM

    Trying to add some humor to fantasy.

  • Jonathan May 19, 2012, 4:25 AM

    Right now it seems that finishing my WIP is reaching higher. Technically it is my second attempt at literary fiction, but my first was novella length. This one is novel length and is further along then anything (except the novella) I’ve ever written. In a way I guess that means that novel length is reaching higher for me.

    As for The Telling, I noticed the POVs (an issue I will be editing for when I finish my WIP) and my wife looked at the cover and told me that it looked like the kind of book she would read, so great job with that choice. I won’t let her get it until I’m done, though.

Leave a Comment