I've been here before. The story is written. Told in an engaging way. Finally.
It has taken many versions and experiments with different approaches to get it right. There were many questions I asked myself. Who's story is it? What's important? Should it be a wide-angle view or a close-up perspective? Third person past? Third person present? For that matter, what about first person present or past? That would accomplish telling the story from the main character's point of view. But that could be problematic as I would lose the historical context I need for kids to understand where this person is coming from and why it matters.
For Almost Astronauts, there were MANY experiments until I settled on the right way In. It takes time. And I am here again, now. With a new story, new friends. Because the women in Almost Astronauts DID become my treasured friends--some of them truly, in real life, others in my writer's mind. In the end, the story was for them. And now there are new people in my head.
In some ways, the process with nonfiction is so different than fiction; yet in other ways, so similar. With both, storytelling mode is paramount. But when I'm writing a novel, the people in my head exist only there. I choose where they go, what they feel, what's important to them, and how they react in every given situation. There is a certain freedom in that, which by no means implies that it is easier than nonfiction, because it isn't. But with nonfiction, of course, the people I write about are real. Every detail I convey comes from fact. Where the sun was shining in the room on the day they were born. Fact. What person they bumped into on the beach who changed their life. Fact. Every step of the way, the choices we make in the HOW of presenting nonfiction is inextricably linked to the facts.
So, how DO you find the way in? Picture book or longer form? What serves the story best? What serves the reader best? Almost Astronauts started out, incredibly, as a picture book. What was I thinking? My friend Ellen Jackson told me at the early stages of that phase that I was "trying to fit a size 10 foot in a size 5 shoe." And she was right.
I think of all these things as I start transforming the next book from short form to long. I have done this twice now--starting out in picture book and slowly realizing that the subject demands a larger treatment. And it makes perfect sense to me in hindsight because both stories are big and complex and center on many people instead of one main character, so in retrospect I was searching for a way to manage them, to contain them. But ultimately, letting go, and allowing them to loom large and choose their own shoe size is, in the end, a much more comfortable fit. Maybe next time I won't have to try on so many other sizes first. But frankly, isn't that half the fun?
Each new story is just that--brand spanking new. Every book is a new beginning. How exciting--because I also know more than I did before with each new book, and have more tools in my belt. And also potentially exhausting--because I know how complex the journey I am about to embark on is in order to retell this story--finally--the right way. I have found my way IN again.
How do you find your way in?