Peeling Back Phreak Show’s Skin


Civer - Phrenology

Finally, Phreak Show is done!

Its creation veered off the usual path I take when writing a novel. Which, I kind of liked. I’m a creature of habit. Not OCD level, but I prefer clear plans, order, and steady movement towards the goals I set. I’m an outliner, a spreadsheet junkie, a list maker. I like to track things and see their progress over time.

All of those tools (and a few more) were involved in the making of Phreak Show, but the process didn’t move swiftly from A to B. Leave it to the phreaky story to be the one to shuck my norm.

Since I like to track things…Here’s a breakdown of the process I used this time around and how it strayed. For the hell of it (because such things make me happy) I’ll use a pair of symbols to denote which components are [N]ormal for my process, and which ones are a little [P]hreaky. And, yes, I’m busting out the bullet points.

  • [N] Idea – A line, a character, a conflict. I kick it around in my head. Weigh it for worthiness & flesh it out while showering, driving, falling to sleep. I may scribble down a few gems so I don’t forget them, but it’s mainly a mental process. For PS, it was the setting of a Sideshow with teenage freaks being enslaved by their own warped self-images, and having those personal fears manifested in physical form.
  • [P] Tagline -In the past, boiling the story down to a single line has been a hellish project which comes after the novel is complete. With PS, it punched me in the face very early in the process. Being a phreak isn’t about looks, it’s a frame of mind.
  • [P] Plotting – I go hard and detailed on this aspect. I don’t play. For PS, I used some elements as usual, but wielded them differently. I added some new steps. I use OneNote to organize ideas, settings, characters, specific lines. I drop in links and tidbits found during the research stage. This time, I didn’t copy & paste / type an official  outline in Word. I printed the OneNote pages, cut out the strips, and visually sorted and arranged them on my plotting wall. Also, I used 4-Part Story Structure as the framework. (<–This is a genius tool!) Everything fell into place like clockwork.
  • [P] Query Letter – I’m pretty good with them, I believe. But many, many wildly different versions are usually needed before I hone it down to the true, delectable meat of the story. Freeborn had at least 35 versions…With PS, I decided to write the query BEFORE drafting. Ummm, amazing way to do it. Reason: the basic concepts are vivid, but all the nitty-gritty goodness isn’t fleshed out yet. The process was streamlined because the writing jewels & subplots I’d be tempted to embellish the query with later, didn’t exist yet.
  • [P] Research – This is an [N], but it could have been a [P]. No, wait. I’m changing it. Definitely a [P]. I always research, but it’s usually 95% internet-based. This time involved a lot of that, of course, but it went to a deeper level. I read 2 non-fiction books on the history of the sideshow: Carny Folk: The World’s Weirdest Sideshow ActsFreak Show: Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit. I also read Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. I remembered the movie (1983) from when I was a kid. Some of the imagery is burned in my skull. So, I wanted to be careful not to gank any of it–to make sure my ideas were my own. Two movies also gave me some great background: Tod Browning’s cult classic “Freaks”  (1932) and a documentary “Sideshow: Alive on the Inside”.  All of this gave me a feel for the imagery, terminology & world. But, it also provided an added layer that became key to Phreak Show: the emotions & motivations of real-life sideshow performers in their heyday. Golden. Absolutely golden.
  • [P] Bonus Features – Phreak Show got pimped out in this department. There is the mandatory Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/PhreakShowNovel. With 9 dedicated Boards, Pinterest played a huge part in image collection this time: http://pinterest.com/gypsyluc/. The one I’m most proud of contains a set of Victorian Cabinet Cards I created just for the characters: http://pinterest.com/gypsyluc/phreak-show-cast-steampunk/ [I still owe Douggie his…]
  • [P] Drafting – Usually, this is hardcore, front-to-back, full-tilt, beginning-to-end with no pauses in between. PS came in 5 major spurts. I hammered out the first 2 pages so I could share them at an SCBWI conference. (Rave reviews!) Then I paused again, waiting for NaNoWriMo to begin. After NaNo, the hiatus between sections 2 & 3 was six weeks long. I can’t really explain the reason why that happened. I never lost the passion for the story, but simply needed it to chill, and rest, and mellow. Or something. Idk? This was a new one for me. Then, with the story so close to done I could taste it, I stopped short of the final two chapters. It was uber-important that I got them right. The first time. Those two chapters took about 10 days to draft, which is insanely slow for me. Alas, the outcome convinces me it was well worth slowing the pace and nailing the perfect ending.
  • [P] Revision – I always edit little bits and pieces as I go. You know, read back over the previous section to keep the continuity and voice. Because of the lulls in drafting, I edited each section piece-by-piece. That was part of the holding pattern at the end of Chapter 23. I completely revised the whole thing–looking for holes, resolving dangling things, building the tension, back-filling, cross-checking, characterization, removing ridiculousness–before drafting those final two chapters. I will make a few more passes to double-check everything and make sure, but any further changes are merely cosmetic, obsessive tweaking.

So there you have it. Probably waaay more details about my process than you ever cared to know. When I look at that list, I see all but one [P]. That tells me that my process changed drastically from Freeborn to Phreak Show. I predict that this will translate into a much different outcome for Phreak Show, as well.

I know that once a new novel is complete, we all think THIS IS THE ONE! And, perhaps, that’s where Phreak Show stands. But, if I’m honest with myself: I know better. Laugh if you like, but this is, I strongly believe, the one. Not only am I uber-organized, but I’m also an excellent student. I learned so much from my first two novels. All that ‘practice’, the successes & failures, the things I did correctly & the dumbass mistakes I made–I channeled the lessons learned & wisdom gained into the creation of Phreak Show.

The contentment I feel isn’t merely about having completed my third novel. It is about this one, finally, being worthy of signing my name to it. And, time will time, maybe even signing my name on a contract.

“If you judge them by appearance alone, you will miss the truth buried beneath their skin, behind their wet eyes. A truth which, if you dare search it out, lurks within your own heart. Being a phreak isn’t about looks. It’s a frame of mind.”

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5 thoughts on “Peeling Back Phreak Show’s Skin

  1. Loved reading this! Getting to peek within the weird process that gives eventual form to an imagination as unique as yours is something to slowly mentally digest and admire. I can`t wait for the day when I`ll be able to read this fascinating story!

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  2. Ooooooh, sounds like it was a real journey. Thanks for sharing your process! Mine veered off track in surprising ways this time around too. I really hope this one’s The One for you!

    Like

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