Now that my novel Cassandra’s Daughter is available on Amazon, I thought it might be interesting to document the process of bringing this kernel of an idea to fruition.
And that is exactly how it started – as a very small kernel. Previously, I had spent my writing career focusing on nonfiction essays and narratives. For some reason, I had made the decision in high school, if not earlier, that I was not creative and was incapable of doing any type of creative writing. I have no idea why I came to that decision. But that decision led to ridiculous poems about rocks in English class. Clearly, rather than change my belief that I was incapable of writing a poem by putting some actual effort into the writing, I instead purposely produced doggerel in record time.
In college, my expository writing garnered notice, and I was willing to admit that I was a decent writer. But I still knew I was incapable of writing fiction, a belief which was further proven when I took my one and only creative writing course in grad school. That was a painful semester. I now know enough to understand that I approached the class as a way to confirm that I couldn’t write fiction rather than as a challenge to master the assignments.
It’s funny. Growing up, I felt the same way about my lack of athleticism. The opinion that I was bad at sports wasn’t controversial. My worst sport was tennis, and I can remember going to the courts with a friend of mine to hit balls, and we would be doubled over in laughter at how bad we were. Outings were short lived because we quickly lost balls as we lobbed them unintentionally over the fence. But then as an adult, I decided to take some tennis classes. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was actually pretty athletic and a decent tennis player.
There is definitely a message in there regarding recognizing talents in children and then encouraging and nurturing those talents. But that is a topic for another day.
Back to writing.
The first time I felt a glimmer of interest in trying my hand at fiction came with the adoption of our first and only family dog. I know. You must be wondering what a new dog has to do with writing. We adopted a two-year-old terrier mutt from the local shelter and named him Captain. Captain has been the craziest, goofiest dog I could imagine. And it seemed like he had jumped right off the screen from an animated Disney kids’ movie.
Of course, he didn’t. So I decided I needed to write the screenplay for that movie. I spent the next couple of years writing Captain and the Greyhounds. The challenge was daunting. Not only did I have no idea how to write fiction, but I certainly had absolutely no idea how to write a screenplay for a movie, which is a completely different skill that is based entirely on dialogue rather than expository narrative, which has always been my specialty.
But damn, I love this dog. And he deserves to be honored with a story that highlights his personality.
As it turns out, it’s a great story. I did have a producer and investors interested in the screenplay in 2016, but when Trump was elected, they pulled out, convinced that Trump would destroy the economy. It was simply too risky. (Hmmmm…). At this point, I have lost my contacts in LA and don’t have the $10 million to turn it into a movie, so I will be converting it into an easy chapter book and then a children’s book series as my next project. (Unless anyone reading this has $10 million they want to invest in a great character, story and brand! In that case, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
As part of my screenwriting learning process, I attended never-ending workshops, watched multiple training videos, bought and learned new software, networked in the “industry,” and wrote and wrote and wrote. One workshop I attended provided me with a great creative community that I still stay in touch with today. And the organizer said the best way to tap into your creativity is to let go of what you know, go into innocence, and then make it up. So that is exactly what I did.
People have very different processes when it comes to writing. And one person can have as many different approaches to writing as writing projects.
When I wrote Captain and the Greyhound, I started by just typing up my idea for a story. It turned out to be 20 pages of a rough storyline containing exactly zero dialogue. Dialogue was never a part of a single essay I had written. So I was overwhelmed with the thought of turning that into basically a story with ONLY dialogue. It seemed impossible. This meant that all action would have to be revealed only through what the characters are saying.
Once I made that transition and had what I thought was a decent draft, I then discovered that there are very strict structural requirements applied to screenplays, and I had to shift my process to working with an outline. During my work on the outline, I actually wrote up index cards and taped them to a blank wall in my bedroom. That made it much easier for me to see at a glance where the holes were and where I was missing beats, as they say. It also made it easier to move scenes around and check the flow.
I could see that my catalyst was on page 15. That needed to be moved to page 12. I had no “Fun and Games,” and I needed 20 pages of those! And my “Dark Night of the Soul” was definitely not dark enough.
But there was something comforting about having such a strict structure. From what I understood, when the people with the actual money or decision-making power read screenplays, one of the things they do is flip to certain pages to see if the required plot point appears in the correct spot. So, for example, they may first turn to page 5 to make sure the theme is stated there or to page 30 to see that the B storyline is introduced there. If nothing else, it certainly made it easier to know when I was done. I had hit all of the expectations. (This might also explain why it may appear that all movies seem to have the same basic outline – they do! And once you study it, you can’t unsee it.)
When it comes to novels, different genres also have different expected structures. Readers of, for example, cozy mysteries have come to expect certain plot points, a particular tone, the types of characters. And a cozy mystery author who fails to adhere to those genre expectations will be criticized and rejected.
My challenge in writing this novel was that Cassandra’s Daughter is literary fiction. What does that mean? Well, it means that it doesn’t really fit into any genre. One characteristic is that it tends to be more character focused than plot focused. As a result, there really are no formulaic structural expectations for literary fiction (except for great story-telling, of course!).
That made it much more difficult to know when I was finished with the book. In the next post, I will go into some detail about the process I used to get to that final product.
Cassandra’s Daughter by Vickie Oddino
Available on Amazon