NaNoWriMo 2019: Day 2: Tracing Broken Girl’s Origins

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series NaNoWriMo 2019

Thinking About the Writing

A bit late on getting my writing blog part of NaNo kicked off, but I feel really good about this project so I’m not too mad at myself. Yesterday was a crazy day. Capital One, my bank, had a system wide outage that meant I couldn’t access my checking accounts or paycheck for nearly six hours yesterday, so that was crazy. And it was a Friday, so as a teacher, that meant my nerves were frayed to begin with.

But I wrote a scene before the homeroom bell and then another one before I went out with my nieces for the night. They’re at great ages — 9 and 7 and still think I walk on water. We went to my school’s high school drama performance of Edgar Allan Poe short stories, and they had a great time. But I had to pick them up and drive back to my town so I spent about two hours on the road altogether. A bit tired today, but looking forward to digging into more of this year’s project.

Where Broken Girl Came From and Why It Took So Long

I’m really excited to be starting For the Broken Girl. It’s one of the projects I’ve had on the back burner almost since I started writing again. One of my favorite things to do is to peruse the Category Archive of my Story Status post over at Crimson Glass. It’s interesting to see what projects have actually come to fruition since I started writing again and redesigned CG. It looks like the first time I posted about it was July 2014. That’s five years!

At that point, I had a lot of on my plate. I had written Shadows and A Few Words Too Many, and had just started The Best Thing. That’s a lot for six months but I was really prolific during my second six months in London. I didn’t want to start a lot of stories at once — that’s something I did a lot in my early fanfiction career. I think I had anywhere from 6-9 stories in progress at all points and I would go weeks without updating.

I was in my early twenties — actually, even younger. Deserving, my first Liason fanfic, was published in July 2002. I had just turned eighteen, and within a year, I had written maybe a hundred stories. A ton of short ficlets, a lot of which was lost in a computer crash during the summer of 2003. I wrote a lot between 2002-03, then a lot from 2006-08, but then I went back to college and left a few stories in the lurch. You can trace my kind of haphazard writing career through the Fiction Graveyard which represents nearly every story I abandoned or rewrote.

What I like to do now is plan my stories and write them all before I post them. When I first started writing, I definitely still believed in the “buffer zone” of maybe five chapters. I managed to get through A Few Words that way because that story, for whatever reason, just poured out of me and I could stop writing. But The Best Thing took two years to write. I started posting it in May 2014 and didn’t finish until February 2016. I also posted in progress for All We Are and Bittersweet. It was Bittersweet that convinced me that waiting until a story was done was better. I made a huge revision in the last twelve chapters — and had I not waited until I finished writing it, that revision wouldn’t have worked nearly as well.

So Mad World, Books 1 and 2, were entirely written before I ever posted them and I hope my readers think that was worth it. I was able to add entire chapters, and in Book 2’s case, I added the Lucky and Kelsey relationship as well. I was able to tweak stories and scenes. I think both of those books are tighter and better for it.

All of that is to say that Broken Girl has mostly been in my head since 2014, but I wasn’t ready to write it. I had a series of scenes in my head, but I couldn’t really visualize the ending or the beginning. I’ve written thousands of words about this story, a lot of different plot sketches. It kept changing in my head, and I never felt quite ready to push it from development into active writing.

That’s changed now. I think I needed to write Mad World and finish The Best Thing first. Both of those stories pushed my writing into deeper, and unfortunately, darker places. And Broken Girl needs that.  Looking back at the various times I wrote about Broken Girl in my status posts, I kept talking about how the darker material just needed more time.

This Year’s Project

So now I’ve decided that time has come. What is For the Broken Girl exactly?

It’s of rewrite of the drug addiction storyline with more of a focus on Elizabeth, and less of a sympathetic view towards Lucky. I mostly like how 2006 unfolded — it’s one of my favorite years of GH writing with Scrubs, CarJax, Dillon & Lulu, etc. There’s a lot of good here and I love the buildup of the Liason friendship. I also really liked Sonny/Emily. Not the couple, but the story. What that story did for Jason, what it did for Sonny, and the catalyst it served for Jason and Elizabeth to reconnect. You don’t get the August 2006 blackout without the Sonny/Emily story.

I think Sonny/Emily/Jason story is what the network and writers wanted Jason/Courtney/Sonny to be, but that was always going to be a mistake. Jason/Courtney had their fans, but by and large, most fans have forgotten that story and that couple. Sonny and Courtney weren’t close, and Jason/Courtney’s relationship came from nowhere. Instead of writing the more believable rebound relationship turning into love, they made Jason/Courtney star-crossed lovers within two months, and for those us watching who had loved Courtney/AJ and Jason/Elizabeth, it felt like whiplash.

But Sonny and Emily? Jason’s reaction? That made sense to me. Jason adores Emily. She is absolutely the one person I believe Jason would go crazy to protect. He loved his sister. And he’s watched Sonny destroy woman after woman, driving them madness and breakdowns. You can love a person as a friend and still believe they are damaging to others. I adored the Sonny/Emily/Jason story. Plus — it gave us an in to rebuild that magical Liason connection that had gone dormant during 2005. We had only seen flashes of it in 2003 and 2004, but in 2006 it came back and a lot of us fell in love all over again.

But Broken Girl isn’t really super concerned with Sonny and the breakdown. That’s going to happen in the background. I’ve written the Sonny mental illness story in The Best Thing, and I can’t write anything better. I’ve said what I needed to say, particularly during this 2003-06 timeline.  I don’t want Sonny and the mob to be the focus in Broken Girl. I want it to be Elizabeth’s story.

I don’t have a lot of concerns with writing the story, but maybe there’s a few with the reception of the story. I hated the Jason/Sam break up in 2006 because the writers never give Jason believable outs with his romances. His final breakup with Courtney? Ultimately, she couldn’t handle his life. He walked away from Sam and Liz over the danger. The last time Jason broke up with a woman and it made sense was Robin. That’s twenty years ago now.

I think if you want to break up Jason and Sam and have it come from character, that’s a better way to go. People in love don’t fall out of love, but they stop being able to be together. I think you can write Jason and Sam as being in love in 2006 but not being good for each other anymore. They were lonely people in 2004 when they started dating, but I think you can use the quarantine as a reset. Sam lost her brother and her entire identity. The show didn’t go far enough in showing how this could have her questioning herself and really forcing her to do more.

2006-08 Sam is my favorite. She reminded me of early Carly — she’s so vulnerable, so damaged that she plasters over the fragile spots in her psyche by going on the offensive. By destroying others before they can destroy hers. Taking power so they don’t feel powerless. Sam did that with sleeping with Ric as revenge, going after Lucky, etc. They wimped out, but Sam was really interesting then.

But this isn’t Sam’s story either. I don’t want it to be Jason and Sam’s story — I want their relationship to be a subplot that influences Jason and pushes Elizabeth’s story. Liason reconnects as his relationship with Sam begins to fall apart — that’s what happened on the show but I want it to be less about Manny Ruiz and the mob and more about the people.

All of that means I have to write a Jason/Sam relationship in Book 1 that falls apart. I have to write a Lucky/Elizabeth relationship that falls apart. And I’m not always sure my audience is interested in reading about Jason and Elizabeth with other people while just being friends. That’s always a concern. But I really want to stretch myself with Broken Girl, so I’m shelving those concerns and moving forward.

So Far

Day 1 went well, despite the outside crap in my life. I wrote two scenes and hit 1,923 words. That’s a decent first day. I’m hoping to double that today and give myself a buffer against bad days and the wisdom teeth I’m having out this coming Thursday. I’ll be back tomorrow with an update.


NaNoWriMo Day 4: Beginnings are Annoying

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series NaNoWriMo 2019

I am terrible at starting a story. I always have to rewrite the first few scenes, no matter what I do. I think Bittersweet had like eight different opening scenes before I finally settled on one I liked. Mad World had four different drafts. The Best Thing had a different opening scene — I am terrible at starting a story. It usually takes me a few chapters to get going, but every once in a while — I just…I have to stop.

I’ve written a little over 8k so far, 2000 more than I need for Day 4 and I mostly like it. But I feel like I’m missing something. Things are going the way I planned it, but I feel like it’s empty so far if that makes sense. Like I haven’t dug deep enough. I want Sonny/Emily to be a catalyst, a jumping off point, but to be honest — I think I’m wrong for that. Because it’s not the inciting incident for my story.

One of my favorite podcasts is How Story Works from Chipperish Media and Lani Diane Rich, and one of the most useful pieces of story advice I’ve ever come across is the seven anchor scenes. When I’m struggling with pacing and the movement of a story, I always stop and reassess — what are my anchor scenes? What is my central narrative conflict? That was the problem with Fool Me Twice. Despite having about 50k written for that, I hadn’t really sorted out what I was doing.

I know the Central Narrative Conflict for Broken Girl. But maybe my inciting incident isn’t the right one. I have to stop and think — what is my CNC and what really kicks it off? How can I get to that scene quick enough?

And the problem is that Sonny/Emily motivates Jason, it motivates the Liason connection, but it doesn’t do a lot to motivate Elizabeth. And this is her story. She is my protagonist, and Jason is a minor sub-protagonist/supporting character. Sonny/Emily is Jason’s inciting incident for the Manny Ruiz and Sam subplots. It has very little to do with Elizabeth.

My entire first chapter is about Sonny/Emily. It’s everything finding out the news, the blow-up it causes. It centers Sonny/Emily and Jason as the story, not Elizabeth.  And that’s not going to work.

It’s not a big deal — I can still use a lot of it, and it’s all staying in as part of the NaNo draft because all the words count. But I need to think about how to make Elizabeth the center of the story since she’s the protagonist.


NaNoWriMo Day 5: The Reset

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series NaNoWriMo 2019

I didn’t do a lot of writing yesterday, but that’s okay. I did some important thinking about the story and how I want it to unfold. I don’t want the Sonny/Emily story to take over, to take focus away from Elizabeth. It needs to happen because it motivates things later on in her story, but it’s not important. It doesn’t have to happen on screen, so to speak. It has to happen in the background.

So I rewrote my outline for the first chapters, tweaking them so that Elizabeth is the central focus. I changed her inciting incident which means I have to readjust the rest of my Central Narrative Conflict’s anchor scenes.

So basically, here is how the way I understand the anchor scenes and how I put them into action into soap opera fanfiction (info is taken as notes from How Story Works and Lani Diane Rich’s podcasts).

Act One is your set up. You introduce the world. In soap opera fanfiction, this is also important because you need to situate the viewer in the time you’ve chosen to rewrite. I’ve picked March 2006 as my beginning point, thirteen years ago. I have to refresh the viewer on what was happening back then, but I also have some freedom to set my own universe. I can change the chronology — for example, Manny Ruiz was hired before the quarantine but I’ve moved that to post-quarantine. I compressed the amount of time they spent on Sam finding out Alexis is her mother because the search for that answer isn’t important. It’s how Sam deals with that information and how it ripples into her universe.

So in my Act 1, I have to create the universe of my particular story and introduce the characters that are going to be important — particularly my protagonist and my antagonist. Act 1 has two anchor scenes. The inciting incident and the first turning point (also called the acceptance of trouble). 

The inciting incident is the protagonist being confronted with the conflict and acknowledging that it exists. Broken Girl is the story of Elizabeth’s marriage — the deterioration not only of the relationship in the present, but also breaking down Elizabeth’s lies to herself about it. So the inciting incident has to have acknowledging that something is wrong. That it’s not about Lucky still recovering from the back injury during the train accident or the virus. She could wait those out, but she needs to see there’s something rotting at the core.

In the second anchor scene of Act 1, the protagonist needs to engage in the conflict. I don’t think it has to be a positive way — but that she acknowledges it and then decides to do something about it. And that’s another pacing problem — I had my original turning point as something else — something related to the Manny subplot and that’s not the right place for it. Elizabeth has to decide something about her marriage — whether it’s to stick it out, try to change what’s broken, or even just to ignore it. But she has to make an active choice.

After that, we go into Act 2 which is usually the longest. There’s a mid point (the view of the conflict has to completely change), then the no way but through (she has to make another active choice to do something about the conflict) which is the turn to Act 3 where we have the final 3 anchor scenes: the dark moment (she keeps going though all is lost), the climax (who is going to win the Central Narrative Conflict?), and then the resolution: how has the world changed?

These seven scenes have to completely revolve Elizabeth and her conflict. Otherwise the story doesn’t resonate as well and the pacing doesn’t work. There are subplots — the carnival shooting, Manny Ruiz, Sam’s surgery — all things that happened in 2006 but with a twist. These plots all influence her story, but they can’t be the things driving her story. She has to be at the wheel.

So I’ve rewritten the outline for the first few chapters and I’ll be digging into them today. I feel really good about this shift and I’m excited to get into it.