I'm puttering around on the internet today, thinking about what I could possibly write for the blog since I've been on hiatus recently, when my discerning eye (ha!) notices a trend (maybe two isn't a trend, but oh well). First, Harley Jane Kozak is discussing her process over at The Lipstick Chronicles:
My first draft, therefore, is not a fast-paced, nicely tied-together manuscript, with thematic unity and equal weight given to each important character and story element, plus conflict on every page and escalating tension. It’s a big, sloppy, all-over-the-map tale of . . . well, let’s just say it’s a long story, with threads that go nowhere, and characters that pop up once, with great significant things to do and say, never to be heard from again. That’s the bad news. The good news is, I like revising. I’m a futzer. I think I’m finally getting a handle on what this story’s about. Probably, instead of saying I’m about to finish the first draft of my book, I should just say I’m about to finish the outline of my book. A 463-page outline.
If only I could express how much this thought excites me! Because what I'm writing makes no damn sense lately. I thought it did, and now I can't figure out where these two characters who showed up early on are supposed to go. Thought they were vital; turns out they may be superfluous. 🙂
The last book I wrote, still not fully revised, also featured characters who appeared and disappeared, and a goal that I never did get quite straight. The reason it has remained in the half-finalized version it's in is because I am mature enough (I think that's it) to admit to myself that what I thought was a great book isn't going to sell. At least not yet. The potential is there and the two main characters are wonderful (mothers and their ugly babies, right?), but it's a quiet book. No loud bangs. Nothing blowing up or under threat of annhilation. Not romantic suspense, not paranormal, not inspirational.
Another post, this time from Alesia Holliday over at Romancing the Blog:
Yes, I’m going to be bold and admit that it was one of the hardest books I’ve ever written. I will forevermore think of it as Seven Ways to Kill an Author. The subplots (I adore subplots) took over my book. I had my protagonist dancing rings on tables simply to try to fit all of those random subplot points into her story.
Except . . . except it was stupid. It was contrived. It was a wall banger. I had to rip that book apart three times, replot the entire middle, and rewrite the ending. Because I wanted a good book, not a “good enough” book. And definitely not a wall banger. By the time I was done, I was hopeful/happy/moderately convinced that I had fixed it and actually had a good book, thanks to the Muse and an astonishing number of chocolate-covered coffee beans.
I sometimes cringe when I'm writing because I think, “Gawd, this is so contrived. An editor will see right through this. I'll never sell this book.” I hate it when that happens. Usually, that means it's time to back away from the book for a while and think about something else.
It's nice to know that I'm not the only one who goes through this. Logically, I know I'm not. But it helps to see others talking about the same issues. No writer is an island, right? Well, unless you're Dan Brown, and he can pretty much afford his own island anyway. (Psst, gossip moment: speaking of islands and famous writers, I've been told, don't know how true it is, that Johanna Lindsey moved back to the mainland recently. If so, it's suprising because she's been here for many years. One wonders what makes one of her resources leave Hawaii. Tis an expensive place for the rest of us, that's for sure.)
How do you know when the book is contrived and it's not just you obsessing? How do you find the courage necessary to slice and hack and reshape that beast into something better? When do you say enough is enough and start a different story?
Lynn… I am glad that you brought this issue up because this problem is the reason why I have never finished a novel. I get to the middle and get stuck in the contrived plotness of it all. You remember that I posted part of a novel on my web… and now as I look at it … it could be fixable or could it??? I don’t know.
I think that you have to really want to fix it.. to really want that it read.
So….are you suggesting that perhaps Johanna Lindsey’s going broke?? LOL
I know—not funny if it’s true! I hope it’s not.
Re: self-doubt—I think you have to lay the story out the best you can – using some degree of your own good judgment – then have a third party read it and give you objective feedback. If you have an agent, there’s your party. If not, get several friends & family members to read it and give said feedback.
That’s the only way to know for sure that your delivery isn’t contrived, transparent, etc. That everything’s coming across as you intended. As writers, by the final draft, we often lose objectivity. We’re no longer able to see it as someone reading it for the first time….if we ever really are able to see it that way. 😉
Hey, Cyn! Well, it’s hard to know, but you do have to finish your work if you ever want to sell a novel. Maybe that novel isn’t it, maybe it’s a different one. But you have to write it all the way through. I get bogged down sometimes, thinking the plot stinks, but I usually force my way through it. And then I have fun with the rewrites. 🙂
Ha, Millenia, I doubt she’s broke! But wow, moving away from Hawaii is so shocking. Oh well, it can get tiring sometimes. I have a friend who has lived here for nearly 20 years and is leaving this summer. She’s decided she’s done with Hawaii. She’ll come back and visit, but she wants to live somewhere else now, somewhere with bigger houses and less expense. 🙂
Good points on the story and getting others you trust to read it for you. 🙂